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Legends of the Madonna - Infant Christ Learning to Read

( Originally Published 1895 )



As if to render the circle of maternal duties, and thereby the maternal example, more complete, there are prints of Mary leading her Son to school. I have seen one in which he carries his horn-book in his hand. Such representations, though popular, were condemned by the highest church authorities as nothing less than heretical. The Abbe Méry counts among the artistic errors " which endanger the faith of good Christians," those pictures which represent Mary or Joseph instructing the Infant Christ ; as if all learning, all science, divine and human, were not his by intuition, and without any earthly teaching. (Vide Théologie des Peintres.) A beautiful Holy Family, by Schidone, is entitled, " The Infant Christ learning to read" (Bridgewater Gallery) ; and we frequently meet with pictures in which the mother holds a book, while the divine Child, with a serious intent expression, turns over the leaves, or points to the letters : but I imagine that these, and similar groups, represent Jesus instructing Mary and Joseph, as he is recorded to have done. There is also a very pretty legend, in which he is represented as exciting the astonishment of the schoolmaster Zaccheus by his premature wisdom. On these, and other details respecting the infancy of our Saviour, I shall have to say much more when treating of the History of Christ.



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