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Description

The full-page miniature depicts a rosy-cheeked and plump baby Jesus seated in a landscape.  Naked and alone, he sits on a luxurious red pillow, and he holds in his left hand the globe, the image of the world.  Discarded before him on the ground is the seamless purple robe he will wear as an adult during the Passion sequence.   This leaf comes from a Book of Hours or, rather, a German Prayerbook, and the miniature illustrates a prayer on the name of Jesus attributed to the great Cistercian Bernard of Clairvaux (c. 1190/91-1153):  "Das gepet hat gemacht sandt bernhardin von dem suessen namen ieus" (This prayer was written by Saint Bernard on the sweet name of Jesus).

Images of the child Jesus are ubiquitous in late medieval art, in sculpture, paintings, and prints.  They are often cheerful, such as the first New Year's greeting, on which the happy baby sits holding a parrot in a spring landscape and wishing the recipient a "very good year" and "a long life."  Sometimes they are more somber, depicting the Christ Child, holding a lance and cross and surrounded by the other symbols of the Passion.  In this latter case, the images foretell Christ's suffering for mankind and in his role as Savior of the world. Our image is most in line with images that foretell Christ's adult Passion.  Here the infancy, Passion, and resurrected Christ are all combined.

Our miniature derives from a print, and it is quite close to those recorded by Richard Field and produced in Upper Germany in the 1460s and 1470s (see Fifteenth-Century Woodcuts and Metalcuts from the National Gallery of Art, nos. 112 and 113).  The lush border decoration on the reverse of the miniature includes strawberries with their leaves and gold besants, the strawberries representative of the good works of the spirit.  The border decoration, the palette, and the style all suggest a southern German origin for the miniature and a date around the turn of the century. Pictures of the infant Christ illustrating this prayer appear to be rare in Books of Hours and Prayerbooks. 

Literature:

unpublished, but on the theme, see David Areford, The Viewer and the Printed Image in Late Medieval Europe, Ashgate, 2010; Alfred Acres, Renaissance Invention and the Haunted Infancy, Turnhout and London, Brepols and Harvey Miller, 2013; Mary Dzon and Theresa M. Kenney, eds., The Christ Child in Medieval Culture:  Alpha es et O!, Toronto, 2010.

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