Lucas Cranach the Elder (German, 1472–1553)
Oil on wood
6 1/2 x 8 3/4 in. (16.5 x 22.2 cm)
The Jack and Belle Linsky Collection, 1982 (1982.60.36)
In a gesture of blessing, Christ places his left hand on an infant presented to him on a cushion. With his right arm he holds another child, presumably the son of the woman at the right who holds her hands in prayer. Represented together with Peter and Paul are other mothers who congregate around Christ, each holding one or more children. The subject of Christ Blessing the Children is based on the words uttered by Jesus in the Gospel of Mark (10:14), which are inscribed in German along the upper edge: "Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for such is the kingdom of God." It was apparently not featured in the history of panel painting before Lucas Cranach the Elder. Cranach and his workshop treated the theme at least sixteen timesat least three for the patron John Frederick the Magnanimous, elector of Saxony. One reason for this sudden appearance and proliferation was Martin Luther's interpretation of the Gospel passage as divine authorization of infant baptism, as opposed to the doctrine of adult baptism espoused by the Anabaptists, a Protestant sect then considered heretical by Luther and the elector of Saxony. Based on the agreement between the style, format, and theme of this picture and those of Cranach's Christ and the Adulteress, also in the Museum's collection, it is clear that they were conceived together. Though the quality of these panels is extremely high, it is possible that their execution involved someone from Cranach's shop, quite possibly the master's son, Lucas the Younger.