• Children with Shell

Children with Shell

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Children with shell (The Holy Children with a Shell) (Jesus Offering the Infant St. John a Drink)
Artist: Bartolome Esteban Murillo
Oil painting on canvas; Size: 104x124cm; Museo del Prado, Madrid.

The Holy Children with a Shell painted around 1670-75, is probably based on a composition by Guido Reni of which Murillo may have seen an engraving. The oil painting is famous for its tenderness: the Christ Child is holding a shell filled with water so that the Infant St. John can drink. When they grow up, it will be John who will baptize Christ by pouring water from a shell.
"Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven." The words of St. Matthew's Gospel explain the significance of the work: the veneration of the Infant Jesus, a model of holiness, virtue and love, and the representation of the holy children were intended to kindle an instinctive faith in the believer, as pure as that of a child.
The image is the product of the painter's affectionate observation of children, but he toned his naturalism down in sacred scenes for reasons of decorum: the children are more idealized and, above all, their feet are clean. In a suffuse golden light, one of the works of mercy recommended by Christ is being performed, giving drink to the thirsty: the gesture of love and brotherhood presented in the picture was intended to persuade adults to imitate the Infant Jesus.

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