In facing the children, Christ in Emil Nolde‘s 1910 painting is turned away from us. He is also turned away from the figures at the left; the title of the painting encourages us to guess at the identity of these adults. They may be anonymous onlookers; they may be the disciples. Apart from the faces of the children (and the face of a mother at top right), the clearest is that of the face of the adult at far left, looking off, perhaps unable or unwilling to turn his attention to Christ and the children. He appears to be engaged in conversation (about what we can’t say). If these are the disciples, the face of this adult may be that of Judas. Also because of the title of the painting, which leaves these adult figures unidentified, we may be encouraged to remember that Judas, too, was once an infant and a child.
Nolde’s painting is mentioned in Dr. Mark Nixon’s Samuel Beckett’s German Diaries 1936-1937, published by Continuum last year and one of the most elegantly written and persuasive volumes of Beckett scholarship issued in the recent past. (Due to that price, those of us without a Kindle are thrown back on the resources of our local libraries.) Dr. Nixon notes that Christ and the Children was one of the German Expressionist paintings that Beckett saw during his 1936-37 trip to Germany. Beckett wrote in his diaries on 19 November 1936:
[the] clot of yellow infants, long green back of Christ (David?) leading to black & beards of Apostles. Lovely eyes of child held in His arms. Feel at once on terms with the picture, & that I want to spend a long time before it, & play it over & over like the record of a quartet. (140)
Dr. Nixon is preparing an edition of the diaries themselves for Suhrkamp, scheduled to be published in 2015. Rhys Tranter has more on this at A Piece of Monologue.