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Nicolaes Maes: 'Christ blessing the Children'

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This subject is told in several of the Gospels. Christ, in response to the complaints of his disciples, justified his blessing the children with the words: 'Suffer little children to come unto me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven'. New Testament (Matthew 19: 13-15).

In the theological debates between Calvinists and Lutherans against the Anabaptists this text was used to justify infant baptism. Children, although seemingly innocent and certainly unaware of the significance of the event, need to be baptised in order to achieve salvation from original sin, with which all humans come into the world.

The composition is focused on Christ's hand placed in blessing over the head of the girl in the centre. Strong light falls from the left across her features and illuminates from the side the crowd gathered behind her. The figure on the extreme left appears to be a portrait, and may well be a self portrait by Maes.

The painting was acquired in 1866 as a Rembrandt, but is now generally agreed to be an early work by Maes, dating from the early 1650s, not long after his training with Rembrandt.

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