The motif of this painting is taken from the passages in the Gospels about Jesus inviting children to come to him (Mt 19, 13–15, Mk 10, 13–16, Lk 18, 15–18). The attribution of this canvas to Otto van Veen is based on its similarity with a number of works which have been recognised as his, all from the same period of stylistic development, around 1580–1585. This group includes Love (Caritas) in the Art Gallery in Glasgow (Inv. No. 142, attributed to the Flemish school of the late 16th century), The Adoration of the Shepherds, which was once in the Augusto Caraceni collection in Rome, Peace and Justice (Pax et Iustitia) in the Staatsgalerie in Augsburg, Allegory of Original Sin in the Staatsgalerie in Bamberg and a number of paintings in private collections. The paintings in Augsburg and Bamberg have been dated to the time around 1581. Our painting demonstrates many elements taken from Roman and Florentine Mannerism, especially from the art of Taddeo Zuccari (the figure of the man on the left) and Pontormo (the heads of the apostles in the background on the right). The motif of the crossed legs in the group of the woman with a child in the foreground on the left derives from Justice (Iustitia) by Raphael and Giulio Romano in the Stanza del Costantino in the Vatican; the posture of the child’s legs is taken from Raphael’s Bridgewater Madonna (Edinburgh, National Gallery of Scotland, on loan from the Duke of Sutherland).
Another variant of the same motif, which van Veen painted on wood and which is based on a similar composition, but with numerous changes, was once (around 1950) in the Eduard Moratille collection in Paris (see photo G. F. N. Rome, Series C, No. 17831). An old, but mediocre copy of our painting (?) on wood, is kept in the Galleria Doria-Pamphilj in Rome, 77 x 108.3 cm, Inv. No. 124. The copy was attributed to the Florentine school (see the catalogue from 1942), and in recent time to an unknown 16th century Flemish painter (see 1983 catalogue).
In the Staatliche Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe, is a grisaille on wood, 33.5 x 47 cm, Inv. No. 221. It is not clear whether this is the model for the painting in Ljubljana.
Dr. Nicole Dacos Crifo is studying a group of works with this motif which are attributed to Otto van Veen or to Jacob de Backer (Antwerp 1540/45–before 1600), e.g. Sinite Parvulos, oil on canvas, Antwerp, Musée de l’Assistance Publique; further a pen drawing in brown, 21.1 x 30.8 cm, Budapest, Szépmüvészeti Múzeum, or a pen drawing in brown with reddish-brown wash and heightened in white, 33.5 x 44.4 cm, Sotheby’s, New York, 1 Jan. 1990, No. 46.
Provenance: Collection of the Counts of Attems, castle in Slovenska Bistrica; confiscated 1945; FCC 1945 (FCC register, No. 6324); Narodni muzej, Ljubljana; exhibited in the museum in the Provost’s house on the island in Lake Bled from 1952–1969; Narodna galerija, Ljubljana; retraced 1983 in the rooms of the Slovenian Institute for the Preservation of the Natural and Cultural Heritage, Plečnikov trg, Ljubljana (found by Ferdinand Šerbelj); since 1983 again in the Narodna galerija, Ljubljana.
Exhibitions: 1960, Ljubljana, No. 16; 1983, Ljubljana, No. 85.
Lit.: Cevc 1960, p. 20, Cat. No. 16, Fig. 9 (Bolognese Mannerist, around 1600); Rizzi 1972, p. 133 (Orazio Sammachini); Zeri [& Rozman] 1983, pp. 156–157, Cat. and Fig. No. 85.