Baby Jesus crib

Date: Fifteenth century
Location or Findspot (Modern-Day Country): Belgium
Dimensions: 35.4 × 28.9 × 18.4 cm
Description: Miniature beds or cribs like this one originally held a doll representing the infant Jesus (their French name is jésueaux). From the fourteenth to the sixteenth century, they were venerated by pious women in northern Europe. This bed is made of painted oak, decorated with enamels and painted parchment and with bedclothes made of silk embroidered with gold thread and pearls. The headboard is carved with a relief of the Nativity scene and the footboard with the Adoration of the Magi; angels with lead wings look down from above. The pillow depicts the Agnus Dei and the bedspread shows the royal ancestors of Christ and Mary.

The crib was made in the southern Netherlands for the use of a nun or a beguine, a chaste laywoman who adopted communal life without making a lifetime commitment to the strictures of a monastery. The crib was preserved in the large beguignage in Louvain, Belgium. Miniature beds were commissioned by or given to nuns or beguines when they entered the community and were often left to the institution in wills. As the woman sang to the Christ child, tucked him in, and rocked the crib, the tiny silver bells would jingle, reminding her of religious and civic rituals. In fact, the bed also resembles a Gothic church, with lobed arches, pointed windows, and tall pinnacles. There is space for a relic under the covers.

The crib was a multisensory object meant to be heard, seen, and touched. A thirteenth-century beguine, Hadewijch of Antwerp, wrote that the ability to touch God was the highest level of devotional and visionary experience. By interacting with the infant Christ image and his bed, the owner hoped to experience the Nativity as if she herself had been present among the witnesses carved on the head- and footboard.
Relevant Textbook Chapter(s): 11
Image Credits: The Metropolitan Museum of Art (1974.121a–d)

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