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Oil painting - Virgin and Child with the Infant St John
  • Virgin and Child with the Infant St John
    Rubens, Peter Paul, born 1577 - died 1640
  • Enlarge image

Virgin and Child with the Infant St John

  • Object:

    Oil painting

  • Date:

    late 17th century-early 18th century (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Rubens, Peter Paul, born 1577 - died 1640 (artist)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Oil on panel

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by John M. Parsons

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) was born in Siegen, Westphalia after his parents left Antwerp, a city he returned to at his father's death. He became a member of the Antwerp Guild of St Luke in 1598, after training successively under Tobias Verhaecht (ca. 1560 - 1631), Adam van Noort (1562-1641) and Otto van Veen (1556-1629). From 1600 to 1608, Rubens visited Italy and Spain. He was deeply influenced by the Renaissance and humanistic culture, which had a decisive impact on his artistic development. He specialised in history paintings and came back to Antwerp following his mother's death in 1608. In Antwerp, he produced mostly altarpieces, history paintings and portraits. In 1623, he started a diplomatic career, which brought him commissions from the chief courts of Europe. Rubens had a few pupils such as Deodaat del Monte (1582-1644), Justus van Egmont (1601-1674), Frans Wouters (1612-1659) and Willem Panneels (ca. 1600-after 1632) along with the most famous of them, Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641).

This painting is a good example of the influence of the art of Peter Paul Rubens. It represents the Virgin and Child with the Infant St John the Baptist in a typical Rubens' manner, especially noticeable in the features of the Virgin and Child. The composition which focuses on the intimacy between the Mother and Child are reminiscent of Italian models that Rubens assimilated during his stay in Italy. This painting was probably executed for private devotion between the end of the 17th and the beginning of the 18th century.

Physical description

Set against a dark neutral background, the Virgin on the right holds the Child on the left with the Infant St John the Baptist looking at them from the lower left corner while holding his reed cross.


late 17th century-early 18th century (painted)


Rubens, Peter Paul, born 1577 - died 1640 (artist)

Materials and Techniques

Oil on panel


Height: 41.2 cm approx., Width: 30.5 cm approx.

Object history note

Bequeathed by John M. Parsons, 1870
John Meeson Parsons (1798-1870), art collector, was born in Newport, Shropshire. He later settled in London, and became a member of the stock exchange. His interest in railways led to his election as an associate of the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1839, and he was director or chairman of two railway companies between 1843 and 1848. Much of his time however was spent collecting pictures and works of art. In his will he offered his collection of mostly German and Dutch schools to the National Gallery (which selected only three works) and to the Department of Science and Art at South Kensington, later the Victoria and Albert Museum. The South Kensington Museum acquired ninety-two oil paintings and forty-seven watercolours. A number of engravings were also left to the British Museum.

Historical significance: This painting was previously catalogued as 'Manner of Murillo' but this attribution is no longer acceptable. 584-1870 shows indeed characteristics features of Rubens' art although it was not painted by the master himself but most likely by a close follower.
It shows the Madonna and Child with the Infant St John the Baptist in the lower left corner, half hidden in the shadow and holding his traditional attribute, a reed cross. The facial features of the Virgin with a long aquiline noise, arched eyebrows and a small mouth are particularly close to such Rubens' models as The Holy Family, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen (Inv. DEP12) and The Holy Family with St Elizabeth, St John and a Dove, Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Inv. 53.27). Furthermore the very pale, porcelain-like complexion of the Virgin (still distinguishable under the dirty varnish) as well as her fleshy elongated hands are typical of Rubens' modelling and palette.
The semi-standing position of the Child with one of his feet in his mother's hand recalls the composition of the Copenhagen panel. His open arm on the left provides the composition with a better balance and alludes to his forthcoming sacrifice.
The painting is also composed according to interesting interchanges of gazes: all three figures look in a different direction, which forms a triangular relationship between them.
Such pictures focusing on the intimacy between the Child and the Virgin enhanced by the neutral background invited the beholder to pray and meditate. This painting, which had been heavily restored and much repainted over the years, was probably executed for private devotion between the end of the 17th and the beginning of the 18th century.

Historical context note

Objects and images were used for protection, intercession and as votive offerings since Antiquity. Amulets, rings and talismans were common throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance and often had pagan and erotic imagery. Popular images were also produced expressly for the purpose of intercession, protection and instruction. In particular the Virgin, Christ and the saints were depicted, for they were considered to be advocates before God and agents of protection against evil. Christians in the Middle Ages and Renaissance periods expressed and strengthened their faith through public rituals, such as celebration of the Eucharist, and personal devotions conducted in a private chapel, monastic cell, or simply in a secluded part of their home. In Western Europe, a form of spirituality that emphasized the emotional involvement of the faithful emerged by 1300. Believers were encouraged to contemplate events from the life of Christ, the Virgin, or the saints, as if they were present. Images of the Virgin and Child were among the most popular images for private devotion and these were primarily small religious paintings suitable as a focus for private worship, as opposed to larger altarpieces intended for public display. Such images frequently emphasized the tender relationship between the mother and her child.

Descriptive line

Oil on panel, 'Virgin and Child with the Infant St John', Follower of Peter Paul Rubens, late 17th century-early 18th century

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

C.M. Kauffmann, Catalogue of Foreign Paintings, I. Before 1800, London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1973, p. 197, cat. no. 240.


Oil; Panel


Oil painting

Subjects depicted



Paintings; Christianity


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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