Photo: Suffer the little children to come unto me (1624-25), oil on canvas painting by Artemisia Gentileschi, 134.6 cm x 97.7 cm, currently at San Carlo al Corso, Rome
The images of this painting are sometimes titled ‘Sinite Parvulos’, which refers to "Sinite parvulos venire ad me", citing Jesus from the Gospel (Mk 10: 14): “When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.’”
But this painting by Artemisia Gentileschi, historically titled ‘Suffer the little children to come unto me’ (or ‘Christ blessing the children’) was untraceable for some time, and was also believed to be lost. And some art historians had wrongly attributed the work to some other artists.
The painting was originally listed in the worldly possessions of Fernando Enriquez Afán de Ribera, the 3rd Duke of Alcalà, who also is believed to be its first owner. In 1898, it was in the collection of the Duke of Sutherland. In July 1913, it was put on sale at Christie’s in London. And in 1927, it was in the collection of E. Boross at Larchmont, New York, from whom it was acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, in the same year.
On 30 May 1979, the Metropolitan Museum sent it for sale to Sotheby’s New York, wrongly attributing the authorship to the Italian Painter Carlo Rosa (1613-1678). After that and notably by 2001 the whereabouts of the painting became unknown.
However, it was rediscovered in the collection of San Carlo al Corso. Comparison of the known photographs of the painting with the 1979 Sotheby’s catalogue show the painting in the church is the same work, but with slight changes caused due to restoration, probably carried out after the sale in 1979.
At the area, close to the bottom edge, where restoration was done, something like the woolly back of a lamb is now visible which was not there earlier. And mysteriously, the right hand of one of the boys is missing.
This painting is one of the most beautiful works of Artemisia Gentileschi, and historians suggest that ‘it can be numbered among her masterpieces’.