Lisa and I came across this little guy in the Cloisters Museum in New York. He just made us feel really happy -- let's hope he has the same effect on you. The paint is original except for the green of the turf he's standing on, and he's lost most of the gilding from his hair. The Cloisters described him as "Christ Child with an Apple. Workshop of Michel Erhart (active 1464-1522.) Willow, German, Swabia, Ulm c. 1470-80." John couldn't help speculating about how he came to be:
"Now I'm a tad skeptical about the Christ Child bit. My guess about this little boy is that he was just that and no more. Michel Erhart saw him playing naked in the sunshine, as happy as the day was long, with his apple echoed in his apple cheeks. Obviously, Michel couldn't resist him: He just had to capture such joy and preserve it for everyone for ever. That's what artists do, and that's what Michel Erhart did. Earthly joy, secularly sensuous carving, a masterpiece."
"But, in the fifteenth century, the Church was the sole patron of the arts, and every artwork had to be religious in one way or another. 'OK,' said Michel, 'No problem, I'll just call him Christ Child and put a bit of gilt on his hair to suggest a halo.' So a Christ Child is what he became, but not, I continue to believe, how he originated."
The Cloisters gives a more museum-like description: Figures like this, the label told us, were often used to decorate altars at Christmas, and nuns were often given them by their families when they took their vows. Their explanation is historically factual and doesn't necessarily rule mine out: Mine is purely speculative, but I still think that I get closer to the heart of the matter. Am I right, Michel?