The Massacre of the Innocents

François Joseph Navez Belgian

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 801

As recounted in the Gospel of Matthew (2:16–18), Herod the Great, King of Judea, ordered the slaughter of boys under the age of two in and near the town of Bethlehem. Herod’s larger aim was to kill the infant Jesus, who had been heralded as King of the Jews. In this painting Navez consigned those acts of violence to the background and filled the foreground with an interwoven cluster of life-size figures, compressed into shallow relief to heighten the viewer’s identification with their vulnerability. This scene’s "frightening realism" struck critics when the canvas was first exhibited in 1824, in Amsterdam and then in Brussels.

The Massacre of the Innocents, François Joseph Navez (Belgian, Charleroi 1787–1869 Brussels), Oil on canvas

Due to rights restrictions, this image cannot be enlarged, viewed at full screen, or downloaded.

Open Access

As part of the Met's Open Access policy, you can freely copy, modify and distribute this image, even for commercial purposes.


Public domain data for this object can also be accessed using the Met's Open Access API.