Seated Infant Christ

Upper Swabia
ca. 1500

Limewood, remnants of original polychromy Height 33 cm



Late Gothic sculptures of the Christ Child are numerous and exist in various forms. They owe their existence to the increasing veneration of the Christ Child by the Franciscan and Dominican orders in the thirteenth century. Figural depictions of the Infant Christ were closely connected to that movement. From the fourteenth century onwards, every nun brought one with her as a dowry when she joined a convent. They served to illustrate the incarnation of God, were objects of private devotions and both the cause and effect of numerous and frequent visions in which the Christ Child appeared physically to nuns.

Due to the fact that, in the Medieval scheme of things, the role of the nun corresponded to that of Mary, nuns took over the role of the Mother of God, caressing, feeding, bathing, dressing, and rocking the figures in a cradle like real children. The practise of worshipping figures of Christ ultimately made its way into bourgeois circles as well. The increased demand led to mass production, for example in Mechelen in the Netherlands.

The Liebieghaus’s Infant Christ seated on a pillow is related to this development. Its original context was not that of private devotions, however. The figure was made as part of a large sculptural group, probably depicting Saint Anne with the Virgin and the Christ Child, the latter being placed on a bench between Mary and her mother Anne. Because the child was worked separately, it is reasonable to conclude that it could be removed and used for other purposes, perhaps in processions carried out on one of the oldest feast days for the Virgin: the Purification of the Virgin Mary. It is known that a figure of the Infant Christ seated on a pillow played a central role in those processions.