This painting illustrates the belief that Christ was both human and divine: the embodiment of the ‘Two Trinities’. At the centre of the composition the Christ Child forms part of the Heavenly Trinity with the dove of the Holy Ghost and God the Father above, and part of the Earthly Trinity with his human parents, Mary and Joseph.
The scene is not based on a particular biblical event, though a story in the Gospel of Luke echoes its theme. Aged 12, Christ disappeared after a trip to Jerusalem; he was eventually found in the Temple debating with religious scholars. When confronted by his anxious parents Christ spoke simply of his divine mission.
Mary gazes lovingly at her son. Joseph looks towards us, inviting us to adore Christ, who stands on a sharp-edged rock. This is possibly intended to symbolise an altar or may refer to biblical descriptions of Christ as the ‘cornerstone’ upon which God’s household would be built.
This painting illustrates the belief that Christ was both human and divine: the embodiment of the ‘Two Trinities’. At the centre of the composition the Christ Child forms both a vertical and a horizontal link with the figures around him, reinforcing the picture’s principle message.
Together with the hovering dove of the Holy Ghost and the figure of God the Father above, Christ forms part of the Holy or Heavenly Trinity. He looks up towards heaven, but affectionately holds hands with his human parents, Mary and Joseph. Together they make up the holy family, which was sometimes referred to as the Earthly Trinity, especially during the Counter-Reformation period.
The subject of the ‘Two Trinities’ was rarely painted in Spain during the seventeenth century. This is one of Murillo’s most ambitious works and it demonstrates his ability to transform a complex theological principle into a very human and accessible image.
The scene is not based on a particular biblical event, though a story in the Gospel of Saint Luke echoes its theme. When Christ was 12 years old he was taken by his parents to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover; shortly after leaving they realised he was not with them. They found him three days later in the Temple, debating with religious scholars who were amazed at his great wisdom (Luke 2: 41–50). When confronted by his anxious parents Christ spoke simply of his divine mission.
The painting is one of extraordinary tenderness. Mary’s loving gaze and gracefully upturned palm are directed towards her young son. Joseph looks out of the picture towards us, inviting us to adore Christ. He holds a rod bursting into flower, one of his attributes, to signify his betrothal to Mary. Christ stands on a sharp-edged rock, possibly intended to symbolise an altar or refer to biblical descriptions of him as the ‘cornerstone’ upon which God’s household would be built (Matthew 21: 42 and Psalm 118: 22).
Though the painting’s early history is unrecorded, the title by which it has become known, ‘The Pedroso Murillo’, is connected to the Pedroso family. The altarpiece is recorded in their collection for over a century (in 1708 in Cádiz and later in Madrid). It is among Murillo’s last works and clearly showcases the loose and confident brushwork of his late style. It was probably made in 1681–2 when the artist was working on a series of paintings for the Capuchin church in Cádiz. He supposedly fell from scaffolding while painting there and died from his injuries several months later.
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