Paintings | 16th Century | Guido Reni | The Infant Jesus sleeping on the cross | Artwork profile

76 x 64,5 cm
Oil on canvas
1625 ca.



The Infant Jesus sleeping on the cross

Guido Reni

The subject

The image of Baby Jesus sleeping on the cross, with the crown of thorns and nails of the Crucifixion beside him, is a clear reference to divine love, most likely inspired by a passage in the Songs of Songs (5:2):


“I sleep, but my heart waketh;

Hark! my beloved knocketh:

'Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled;

for my head is filled with dew,

my locks with the drops of the night”


A love so great that it led to the extreme sacrifice that Christ would make for humanity. But the Baby appears to be sleeping sweetly, while a light breeze seems to caress his hair and not even the symbols of the Passion seem to disturb his dreams.

The painting

Andrea Emiliani dates the work to around 1625 (written communication on 13 March 2007), the same period during which the Bolognese master was painting the vault of the ‘casino’ for Cardinal Scipione Borghese. Emiliani notes how the numerous revisions visible on the surface of the painting resemble an early work, a sort of progenitor to the long and successful series of sleeping ‘putti’ that Reni would produce during his career, following the widespread popularity of this subject among collectors in Rome and Bologna.

Jesus Sleeping on the Cross is a symbol of the Passion and the crown of thorns and nails emphasize this element. But at the same time, this child is immersed in a peaceful landscape of sublime beauty with a vague flavour of the Veneto, as if he were a simple little boy in a serene place with no religious implications. Reni thus created a sense of balance and beauty that would remain distinctive elements in his work.