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Jacob Jordaens, 'The Virgin and Child with Saint John and his Parents', about 1620

Key facts
Full title The Virgin and Child with Saints Zacharias, Elizabeth and John the Baptist
Artist Jacob Jordaens
Artist dates 1593 - 1678
Date made about 1620
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 114 × 153 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1917
Inventory number NG3215
Location Room 18
Collection Main Collection
The Virgin and Child with Saint John and his Parents
Jacob Jordaens

We are watching an intimate family moment, apparently unnoticed. Two children are being introduced – they are the Christ Child and his cousin, Saint John the Baptist. Although this meeting is not mentioned in the Bible, it prefigures the Gospel moment when Christ comes to John to be baptised.

The figures are gathered in the space of a small room – the Virgin Mary holds Christ, while John’s parents, Elizabeth and Zacharias, stand behind him. The lamb and goldfinch are playful but meaningful details. John famously described Christ as the ‘Lamb of God’, and the goldfinch is a symbol of Christ’s later Passion (his torture and crucifixion), which was foretold by John. Elizabeth and Zacharias look on attentively as the little bird flutters from its cage towards Christ.

This painting is based on a slightly earlier picture by Jordaens, now in the North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh.

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