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The Massacre of the Innocents

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When Herod, King of Judea, found out about the birth of Jesus, who was being called ‘the king of the Jews’, he ordered the killing of all children under the age of two, an event known as the ‘massacre of the innocents’ (Matthew 2: 16).

These two pictures once formed a continuous image, but it was cut up before entering the National Gallery’s collection. The picture showing Herod overseeing the slaughter was originally to the right. The architecture – for example, the balustrade – continues from one scene to the next but the alignment is not seamless, suggesting that both paintings were cut down at the inside edge.

Paintings by Mocetto are quite rare; he is better known as an engraver. He has placed his signature on the pedestal supporting the column of Herod’s palace: HEROL/EMO / MOCETO / P.[INXIT] (‘Gerolamo Mocetto painted this’).

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