Jheronimus Bosch: Saint Christopher Carrying the Christ Child (1496-1505)

(Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, The Netherlands)

Pictured on this painting is a story from the Golden Legend by Jacobus de Voragine. According to the story the giant Reprobus wanted to serve "the greatest king there was". First Reprobus served the king of Canaan who was rumored to be the greatest king of all. When Reprobus learned that the king feared the devil, Reprobus left the king went to serve the devil instead. Reprobus saw that the devil feared Christ so he left the devil to search for Christ to serve him. Reprobus approached a hermit and asked how he could find Christ. The hermit first suggested prayer and fasting but Reprobus replied that he was unable to perform that service. The hermit then suggested that Reprobus could serve Christ by by assisting people to cross a dangerous river. Reprobus approved and helped many people cross the river. One day a small child asked for assistance to cross the river. As Reprobus carried the child on the river, the river became swollen and the child seemed to be so heavy that Reprobus barely was able to carry him on his shoulders. When the couple finally reached the other side, Reprobus said to the child "You have put me in the greatest danger. I do not think the whole world could have been as heavy on my shoulders as you were." The child replied: "You had on your shoulders not only the whole world but Him who made it. I am Christ your king, whom you are serving by this work." The child then vanished. From that moment Reprobus got his new name of Christopher - or "Christ-bearer". Jheronimus Bosch shows the episode with the usual wide range of details. These details are a source of much discussion of what they mean. The big fish on the stick of Christopher could be a reference to the fasting which followed after the conversion of the saint. The hunter and the bear could be a reference to the period which Christopher served the king of Canaan etc. This painting is from 1496-1505.

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