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Unknown master, Bornkinnl

around 1500, probably walnut, tempera on chalk ground, 71 x 28.5 x 27 cm
Inv. no. V/82/3/K3, found in the so-called ‘Götzenkammer’ of St. Mary’s Cathedral

The child with its white skin and chubby-cheeked face, red lips, blue iris, black pupil and brown lashes is standing bare-footed on a console with hinted rocky underground. It seems as this figure of a toddler wants to make a step in the viewer’s direction, opening its arms in a gesture of blessing and lifting its head while smiling – thus, the ‘Bornkinnl’ appears to have a life-like presence. Baby Jesus as single figure portrayed as standing, naked roundabout one-year-old child in life size is used since the beginning of the 14th century. The right hand is often up in a gesture of blessing, the left hand sometimes holds the globe or an apple as a symbol for Jesus’ redeeming power. This representation of Baby Jesus became particularly important when celebrating traditional Christmas. The so-called ‘Bornkinnl’ was put on the altar – and still is as St. Mary’s Cathedral revived this tradition in 1993! These figures named ‘Bornkinnl’ or ‘Jesulein’ (diminutive of Jesus), particularly common in the Ore Mountains, were originally meant to be dressed like a doll. However, such garments could rarely be preserved in their original state. Even after the Reformation the adoration of the Christ child continued unabated during the 17th and 18th century. Very traditional varieties made from wax for example were also quite common. It was only with the Enlightenment – for Zwickau the year 1781 officially marks the beginning of this era – that the Christmas tradition to put such figures on the altar mostly ceased to exist.


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