The Virgin and Child with St John and his parents

The Virgin and Child with St John and his parents, 1620, Jordaens, National Gallery, London
The Virgin and Child with St John and his parents, 1620, Jordaens, National Gallery, London

This painting prabably dates from around 1620, and one other signed version is known to exist. The work exemplifies the vein of robust realism that Jordaens, in the wake of Rubens and Van Dyck, brought to the interpretation of religious subject matter.

The theme is derived from the 'Meditations' of the so-called Pseudo-Bonaventura, a popular early renaissance text which recounts the visit of the infant John the Baptist with his parents, Saints Elizabeth and Zacharias, to theVirgin and Child. Accompanied by a lamb, Saint John releases a goldfinch. This bird was believed to have been splashed with the blood of Christ at theCrucifixion, so was seen as a symbol of the Passion.

Visually, the high basket chair suggests a halo encircling the heads of the Virgin and Child, thus contributing a symbolic resonance to a painting which is otherwise filled with a vigorous sense of reality.

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