This recently discovered, previously unpublished painting, is known in several other versions. The first, of which the present location is unknown, is executed on panel and measures 168 x 212 cm, while the second, also on panel, but smaller (93 x 150 cm.), is now preserved in Old Economy Village, Ambridge, Pennsylvania. Although Van de Velde lists both of these in his catalogue raisonné on Floris, he considers the Old Economy Village version a workshop product, and withholds judgment on the authenticity of the other, only known to him from a photograph (see C. Van de Velde, Frans Floris (1519/20-1570), Brussels, 1975, I, pp. 191-92, nos. 41-42; illustrated II, figs. 11 and 13). While the figural compositions are nearly identical in all three paintings, each is different in the details of the background setting such as the architectural elements and secondary figural motifs. Van de Velde considers the composition relatively early in origin, datable to circa 1553-4.
Van de Velde also cites two copies on panel of this composition (Schloss Waidhofen-an-der-Thaya and the Grzimek collection, Friedrichshafen), as well as a drawing for the woman and child in the right foreground of the composition, executed in black and white chalk on blue paper (Rotterdam, Boymans van Beuningen Museum; 27.3 x 28.7 cm.; ibid., p. 191).
Another recently rediscovered painting by Floris, executed on an oval panel (38 x 42 inches; formerly with Richard L. Feigen & Company, New York) shows the nearly identical central grouping of Christ, the twelve Apostles and the mothers and children. In this version, in order to accommodate the oval format, the figures are slightly compressed relative to the larger rectangular pictures. On the verso of this latter panel is Charles I's collection mark.
In his 1604 biography of Floris, van Mander mentions that he saw 'in Amsterdam, with Jan van Endt, art lover at the Dam... a fine large picture which represents Christ calling the children and blessing them. There are splendid faces in this picture; the women wear strange costumes and wrappings; sweet, round-faced children, and other subjects appear.' (see C. Van Mander, Het Leven der Doorluchtighe Nederlandtsche en Hooghduytsche Schilders, 1604; New York, 1969 ed., p.187). Which of the three large rectangular versions van Mander actually saw in Amsterdam cannot be determined, nor can any of these be securely identified as the 'I groot stuck van Frans Floris daer on Heer de kinderkens tot hem roept' which the Antwerp dealer Gilliam I Forchondt sent to his sons in Vienna in 1670 (see Van de Velde, op. cit., p. 191).
Christ Blessing the Children was a popular subject in 16th and 17th Century Flanders, and was painted by Adam van Noort and Jacob Jordaens, among many other artists. The textual source is the gospel story of the mothers who bring their children to be blessed by Christ (Matthew 19:13-15). In spite of the objections of His disciples, Christ welcomes them, saying 'Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven'.