Rare sculpture of Jesus new to Toledo Museum of ArtWritten by Caitlin McGlade | | firstname.lastname@example.org
The Toledo Museum of Art has a new resident. “The Infant Christ,” a 17th century sculpture, now stands among the museum’s collection of Baroque-period paintings. His realistic toddler-like body stands out from the walls, beckoning attention.
This 33.5-inch tall interpretation of Jesus is not just a fresh face for the Baroque room — but a rare form carved by Spanish artist Juan Martínez Montañés, known as the “god of wood.”
“I’ve been looking for this kind of imagery for 15 years,” said Lawrence Nichols, the William Hutton curator for paintings and sculptures before 1900. “This was really filling an enormous void.”
The Montañés sculpture marks the first 17th century Spanish sculpture that the museum owns, said Kelly Fritz Garrow, director of communications.
No one knows how many wooden sculptures of baby Jesus Montañés made, but there are only four known existing works, Nichols said.
Montañés Jesus bears a solemn, mature face, with eyes that pierce the onlooker with their darkness. His right hand extends, suggesting a gesture of blessing, while his left hand lies lower. He might have held a crucifix some time ago, Nichols said.
He contrasts many other impressions of baby Jesus in the room, as many of them are cherub-faced and rather angelic in presentation. Montañés’ version appears real, the troubled look on his face suggesting he knows what the future has in store for him.
Nichols referred to the baby Jesus style as “shocking realism.”
“The realism of it is consciously confrontational,” he said. “It’s made so that we can identify with it. There’s an awareness of what will transpire 30 years later in that child’s face … a kind of nervous character to it.”
The sculpture’s new home is much different from its original residence.
Montañés most likely crafted him for a convent, as much of his work was commissioned by religious figures to fill places of worship, Garrow said. But he wasn’t just a piece of art — nuns dressed and undressed him with priest-style robes.
Others paraded him through the streets during the annual procession of the Corpus Christi (body of Christ).
“There are some sects that would think this inappropriate but it’s definitely a sign of Catholicism during those times,” Garrow said.
The museum acquires between 90 and 300 new pieces each year, Garrow said. This statue is one of the more exciting finds, just in time for Christmas, she said, adding that museum guests should analyze the piece in relation to the bigger connection and compare how Montañés interprets Jesus versus other artists from the period.
“It’s an interesting thing to think about this holiday season of Christmas and faith,” Garrow said. “It gives people something to reflect on the meaning of Christmas.”