The mousetrap

‘The holy childhood’, by Eric Gill
Wood engraving, 1921, from Saint Dominic’s calendar, A. D. 1922
Ditchling, Sussex: printed at St Dominic’s Press, [1921]
Syn.6.91.22(8), January

In late 1921 Hilary Pepler produced a sheet calendar at the St Dominic’s Press for 1922. Each month in the ‘Saint Dominic’s Calendar’ had its own half-page wood engraving. On the page for ‘January’ Eric Gill’s engraving ‘of the holy childhood’ depicts the Christ-child as a toddler playing with toy bricks beside the young Baptist and under the watchful eye of the Virgin Mary. The illustration originated in a drawing by Gill’s daughter Elizabeth, and the children’s clothing together with the simply drawn interior belong to the 1920s rather than first-century Palestine. The mouse at the bottom of the picture, on the other hand, is taken from medieval religious art. It stands for the incarnation as a bait by which the devil was tricked into losing his hold on fallen men and women. Behind the image lies the Latin of the Vulgate Bible (Psalms 9:16): ‘In muscipula ista, quam occultaverunt, comprehensus est pes eorum’ (Their feet have been caught in the mousetrap which they hid). The trap itself may be the box beneath Mary’s left foot.

Two wood engravings in the calendar (for October and December) have been attributed to David Jones. Five are securely attributed to Eric Gill, while the other six remain unidentified.

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