The house of Nazareth, Zurbarán

The house of Nazareth, Zurbarán
The house of Nazareth, Zurbarán

In all artistic periods the religious genre is one of the most outstanding, thousands of paintings have been created representing scenes from the life of Jesus Christ, from his birth to his death. However, there is a stage in the life of Jesus, after his presentation in the temple and until he began his public life, in which it is not easy to find works of art that deal with recounting it. In this sense, the work that concerns us here presents a different theme, different, that has little to do with the rest of religious works and is that in the seventeenth century the narrow limits imposed by the counter-reformation watched over each one of the works that came out of the painters workshop. However, at that same time, a taste for scenes from the childhood of Jesus began to emerge among intellectual circles, more intimate scenes but loaded with iconographic resources that lead the expert eye to a much deeper reading than it might seem.


Francisco de Zurbarán (1598 – 1664) is, together with Velázquez and Murillo, one of the most outstanding artists of the Spanish Golden Age. It seems that his beginnings in the artistic world must have begun in his hometown but shortly after he would move to Seville to train in the workshop of Pedro Díaz de Villanueva. In the twenties Zurbarán was already a well-known artist and gradually his fame would increase untilgetting commissions from some of the biggest patrons.

The work that concerns us here is an oil on canvas in horizontal format and is currently exhibited at the Cleveland Museum of Art in the USA. It is an interior, intimate scene where a very young Jesus Christ entertains himself weaving a crown of thorns, the boy in his work, pricks himself in one of his fingers while his mother, pensive, looks at him with compassion knowing the fate that awaits him.

In the room we find a large number of elements that tell us about the very strong iconography of the canvas, so we can see open books on the table that allude to the prophecies of the Old Testamentabout the coming of the Messiah; a bowl of water at the feet of Christ tells us about baptism as the beginning of man in the Christian life, in addition to the clear allusion to the passion and death of the Savior who, oblivious to his fortune, weaves a crown of thorns like the one that It will be imposed on him at the crucifixion. But the iconography of the scene not only alludes to the figure of Christ, but also to that of the Virgin Mary, in this way we can see how the flowers, lilies and roses, are a symbol of his purity.

In this way the baroque artist elaborates a complicated iconographic and theological discourse from simple and everyday objects that a priori could be unnoticed or simply anecdotal in the eyes of the viewer.

Popular topic