Annunciation of the Virgin flying infant Christ (homunculus)
Year mention: 1617
Annunciation ; Incarnation: Holy Trinity
Not corresponding to Scriptures

This way of depicting the incarnation may lead to dangerous and even heretical errors. Painters who paint not in accordance with the faith are reprehensible, such as Valentine’s claim of Jesus entering Mary’s body through a pipe, the depiction of the Holy Trinity as one person with three heads, the depiction of the Annunciation of the Virgin as the entering of Mary’s body by a baby Jesus, and the depiction of the little Christ with a tablet with letters, since he was never instructed by man

Molanus, Johannes
Robert Campin (workshop) - Triptych (Merode Altarpiece), detail
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York,

In book 2, chapter 23, Molanus deals with examples of images which could lead to dangerous errors among the uneducated. The first case he discusses consists of the Annunciation and incarnation of the Holy Virgin by the Archangel Gabriel. Molanus rejects the specific motif of the presence of an infant Christ, also known as a homunculus, in the rays of light of the Holy Spirit. This motif seems to have been rather widespread in artworks present in the Low Countries and adjacent areas at the time Molanus was writing, supported by the fact that examples which have survived until today are of monumental proportions and have been made by some of the most prominent artists of their time. Molanus takes a stance against this motif by stating that it can lead to dangerous errors, even heretical, among the uneducated and cites Saint Anthony to further reinforce his viewpoint since this authority pleaded for censuring this type of painting. Also, another statement Molanus makes is derived from this important figure from early Christianity, namely that every painting not in correspondence with the Christian faith, most probably intended here as the dogmas of the Church, is reprehensible.

“The story of the Annunciation and the Incarnation of the Lord is represented in some places with a sort of small human body descending towards the Holy Virgin’s abdomen, amidst the rays that the Holy Spirit is spreading. Now it seems that this painting gives rise to an error that is not only dangerous but even heretical. In fact, since antiquity, Valentin has been considered a heretic by the Church for having taught that Christ brought his body from heaven and entered Mary’s body as if through a tube or a fistula. This is why Saint Anthony severely censured this painting. He says that painters are reprehensible when they represent what goes against the faith when they make of the image of the Trinity a single person with three heads, which is a monster in the order of nature, or again when they make the Annunciation of the Virgin into an already formed child, Jesus, introduced into the womb of the Virgin as if he had not taken flesh from the substance of the Virgin, or Jesus as a child with a writing tablet when he has not been instructed by man.”

“Pingitur enim quibusdam locis, in historia Annunciationis et Incarnationis Dominicae, corpusculum quoddam humanum inter radios quos Spiritus Sanctus diffundit descendens ad uterum beatissime Virginis: quae pictura videtur praebere occasione erroris non solum periculosi, sed etiam haeretici. Valentinus enim ab antiquo haereticus est habitus ab Ecclesia, quia docuit Christus corpus de coelo attulisse et per Mariam iantum tanquam per fistulam transiisse. Unde sanctus Antonius, hanc picturam acriter reprehendit. Reprehensibiles, inquit, sunt etiam pictores, cum pingunt ea quae sunt contra fidem: cum faciunt Trinitatis Imaginem unam personam cum tribus capitibus, quod monstrum est in rerum natura: vel in annunciatione Virginis paruulum puerum formatum scilicet Iseum, mitti in uteru, Verginis, quasi non esset de substantia Virginis, corpus eius assumptum vel paruulum Iesum cum tabula litterarum, cum non didicerit ab homine.”

Quoted Authorities

Council of Trent, Session 25 John, 8, 38-40 St. Anthony, 3rd part, tit. 8, ch. 4, par. 2.

annunciation, Christ, Holy Spirit, Holy Virgin, Homunculus, Incarnation, Jesus, Trinity

(pingere) contra fedem, acriter reprehendere, haereticus (ab Ecclesia), monstrum est in rerum natura, Occasione erroris, periculosus, Reprehensibilus
Date mention

Historical Location

Iconclass Number
73A5(+131): 11B1

Molanus, De historia sanctarum imaginum et picturarum (1617), book 2, ch. 23, 88-89

Molanus 1996, 185-186.


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