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St. Christopher carrying the Christ Child


Artwork Details

St. Christopher carrying the Christ Child
circa 15th century
alabaster with polychrome and gilding
17 3/4 in. x 8 7/8 in. x 3 1/4 in. ( 45.1 cm x 22.5 cm x 8.2 cm )
Museum Purchase


March 28, 2009
According to legend, Saint Christopher, a giant of a man, ferried people on his back across a treacherous river. One day he agreed to transport a small child and, to his consternation, discovered that the child far outweighed any previous passenger. The child revealed that he was Christ and that his great weight was due to the fact that he bore the sins of the world. This fine sculpture depicts Christopher (which literally means “Christ-bearer” in Greek) at the moment when Christ reveals his identity. River water once lapped around the saint’s ankles, but the figure has been broken below the knees. Saint Christopher enjoyed immense popularity among medieval Christians, especially among travelers who would invoke the saint for protection, and consequently he appears often in later medieval art. This statue of Saint Christopher probably belonged to an altarpiece, either as part of a larger panel with other figures or alone as an independent devotional object.

Subject Matter:

This alabaster sculpture represents St. Christopher transporting the Christ child on his right shoulder across a river, although the waters that once swirled around the saint's legs were lost when the figure was broken at the knees. The relatively large size of this sculpture indicates that it probably served as the principle devotional figure in a small altarpiece.

Physical Description:

A standing, bearded figure of St. Christopher, broken off at the knees, holds the Christ child on his right shoulder while leaning upon a staff in his left hand. The child, whose head is encircled by a halo, wears a long cloak over his robe and rests his left hand upon an orb in his lap. The red and brown polychromy is a later addition.

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