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according to the Gospels
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The Child Jesus (Divine Infant, Baby Jesus, Infant Jesus, Christ Child) refers to Jesus from his Nativity to age 12. At 13 he was considered to be adult, in accordance with the Jewish custom of his time. The canonical gospels say nothing of Jesus' childhood between his infancy and the Finding in the Temple at the age of twelve.
From about the third or fourth century onwards, the child Jesus is frequently shown in paintings, and sculpture. Commonly these are Nativity scenes showing the birth of Jesus, with his mother, Mary, and his legal father Joseph.
Depictions as a baby with his mother, known as Madonna and Child, are iconographical types in Eastern and Western traditions. Other scenes from his time as a baby, of his circumcision, presentation at the temple, the Adoration of the Three Magi, and the Flight to Egypt, are common. Scenes showing his developing years are more rare but not unknown.
During the Middle Ages
During the Middle Ages, the infant Jesus was represented as an icon of purity and innocence. The popularity of the Christ child was well known in Spain under the title Montanesino after the Santero sculpture "Montanes" who began the trend. These icons of the Christ Child was often posed in the Contrapposto style in which the positioning of the knees reflected in the opposite direction, similar to ancient depictions of the Roman Emperor. The depiction of the infant Child Jesus as naked during these times were not due to a sexual attempt to eroticize the trend, rather done to emphasize the perceived "innocence" and "virginity" of the Christ as a pious way to worship the supreme deity.
The growth of images being made were quite popular among nobility, while some images were also used to colonize kingdoms such of Spain and Portugal. Colonial images of the Christ child also began to wear vestments, a pious practice developed by the Santero culture in later colonial years, carrying the depiction of holding the globus cruciger, a bird symbolizing a Soul or Holy Spirit or various paraphernalias related to its locality or region.
In the apocryphal texts
A number of apocryphal texts, the Infancy Gospels grew up with legendary accounts of the intervening period, and these are sometimes depicted. These stories were intended to show Jesus as having extraordinary gifts of power and knowledge, even from the youngest age. One common tale has the young Jesus fashioning sparrows out of clay. When admonished for doing so on the Sabbath, he causes the birds to fly away.
As pious image of veneration
Several historically significant images of Jesus Christ as a child have met both Pontifical and Canonical Coronations, namely the world-famous Infant Jesus of Prague, the Santo Niño de Cebú in the Philippines, and the Santo Bambino of Aracoeli in Rome.
- Holy Infant of Good Health
- Infant Jesus of Prague
- Madonna and Child
- Nativity of Jesus
- Niño Dios of Mexico
- Santo Niño de Atocha
- Santo Niño de Cebu
- Signs & symbols in Christian art, George Ferguson, 1966, Oxford University Press US, p.76
- "Holy Family", Encyclopedia Britannica Online
- Roten, J. and Janssen, T., "Jesus as a Child"