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The Massacre of the Innocents (Le massacre des innocents)

James Tissot

European Art

Herod learned of the birth of the Christ Child from the Magi, who sought Jesus and called the infant the King of the Jews. As the ruler of Judaea appointed by the Romans, Herod felt his authority challenged by this newcomer. Known for his brutality, Herod then ordered the murder of all male children under the age of two in Bethlehem. Although Tissot acknowledged that the number of victims must have been relatively few in a village like Bethlehem, he depicted horror on a large scale in this episode.

According to a tradition recounted in Tissot’s commentary, Herod lured the intended victims to the palace with the promise of a party. The children were then wrenched from their mothers’ arms and tossed to their deaths in a courtyard. Herod’s deviousness was thus highlighted: called singly into a long corridor, the women had no opportunity to warn others of the impending tragedy.

Contemporary critics universally remarked on the harshness of this scene, which anticipates the artist’s exacting attention to the specifics of the Passion.
MEDIUM Opaque watercolor over graphite on gray wove paper
  • Place Made: France
  • DATES 1886-1894
    DIMENSIONS Image: 10 5/8 x 6 1/2 in. (27 x 16.5 cm) Sheet: 10 5/8 x 6 1/2 in. (27 x 16.5 cm) Frame: 20 x 15 x 1 1/2 in. (50.8 x 38.1 x 3.8 cm)  (show scale)
    SIGNATURE Signed bottom left: "J.J. Tissot"
    COLLECTIONS European Art
    MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
    ACCESSION NUMBER 00.159.33
    CREDIT LINE Purchased by public subscription
    RIGHTS STATEMENT No known copyright restrictions
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    CAPTION James Tissot (French, 1836-1902). The Massacre of the Innocents (Le massacre des innocents), 1886-1894. Opaque watercolor over graphite on gray wove paper, Image: 10 5/8 x 6 1/2 in. (27 x 16.5 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Purchased by public subscription, 00.159.33
    IMAGE overall, 00.159.33_PS2.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2008
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    RECORD COMPLETENESS Best (86%)
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