St Christopher was of great stature and carried travellers across a wide river ford in order to serve God. One night, during a storm, a small child requested this service. As St Christopher carried him through the turbulent waves the child became intolerably heavy. St Christopher then recognised the child as the infant Christ, who explained that Christopher could feel the weight of the world on his shoulders.
This immense painting, which is one of the largest in the Ulster Museum collection, would have dominated the church where it originally hung. It was intended as a devotional work, which would have given travellers, and those who knew them, a sense of security and protection.
St Christopher appears against a dark night sky, and the entire scene is illuminated by the light of a single candle. This dramatic use of light and shadow shows the influence of Caravaggio, whose innovations were brought back to Flanders by artists who had studied his work in Rome.
Jacob Jordaens (1593-1678) spent most of his career in Antwerp, and is one of the most important Flemish artists of the 1700s. He is best known for his elaborate depictions of feasting and merry-making, which often include animals and the rich detail of Flemish domestic life. Jordaens worked for religious and secular patrons, and ran a large and successful workshop. He was influenced by the work of Rubens, and Dutch and Flemish artists who travelled to Italy to study the powerful realism of Italian Baroque painting.