Masterpieces | Earthly & Spiritual Matters
Saint Christopher carrying the Boy Jesus
Saint Christopher’s life is known through the collection of hagiographies by Jacobus de Voragine compiled in the Golden Legend in the 13th century.
Christopher, who converted to Christianity, was tasked with helping travellers to cross a river. One day he carried a child upon his back who began to feel so heavy during the crossing that Christopher reached the other side exhausted. The child then told him: “Don’t be surprised Christopher, you had on your shoulders not only the whole world but Him who made it”. And Jesus gave him the power to bring to life a tree by planting his stick in the ground. In the painting, the withered leaf hints at this episode.
The figures of the giant Saint Christopher and the Boy Jesus stand completely apart from the general perspective and seem to be separate from the landscape. The strikingly different handling between the figures and the landscape imply that there was perhaps another artist involved. X-ray studies revealing the separation of the figures from the background seem to back up this hypothesis. What’s more, Patinir worked several times in partnership with Quentin Metsys, splitting the work as follows: the faces for Quentin Metsys and the landscape for Patinir.