Document Type


Publication Date



Three children play at the center of the Amsterdam Holy Kinship, which is attributed to Geertgen tot Sint Jans or his workshop. This seemingly quotidian subject is remarkable because it shows future martyrs engaged in a game of make-believe using the implements of their torments. In this paper, I argue that the activity occupying the boys offers an invitation to spiritual play that addressed viewers and asked them to find joy in the promise of God's divine mercy and justice despite life's hardships. Given the subject matter and the identity of the artist's primary employer, it is probable that the audience included the Knights of St. John Hospitaller, an order of crusading monks, also known as the Johanniters, in Haarlem. The invitation offered in the panel not only addressed the daily work of being a monk but also offered encouragement to the Haarlem knights during a controversial period.


Originally published in:

John R. Decker, “More Strength for Contemplation: Spiritual Play in the Amsterdam Holy Kinship,” JHNA 8:1 (Winter 2016) DOI: 10.5092/jhna.2016.8.1.2.

Published by Historians of Netherlandish Art: Posted with the permission of the publisher.