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Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes

jesus food baskets disciples

The Gospels contain six slightly divergent accounts of the *miracle when Jesus provided food for a multitude of people from miminal existing resources. The essential outline of the event indicates that several thousand people were miraculously fed with a few loaves of bread and a few fishes, with numerous full baskets left over. (Exact numbers vary in the different versions.) The subject appears in western and Byzantine art primarily from the fourth through twelfth centuries. The earliest examples involve a simple and reduced composition: Jesus stands in a central position, flanked by two disciples, each carrying a basket, the contents of which Jesus touches or blesses. Sometimes the disciples are absent, and Jesus is shown waving a staff over several baskets. More baskets and more disciples appear by the sixth century, and the disciples distributing food to several figures (indicating the multitudes) may also be included. Some ninth- and tenth-century ivories show Jesus seated, surrounded by figures who are holding baskets, distributing food to others, or eating. Whether Jesus is seated or standing, his central position and action of blessing food carried by flanking figures make this image similar to the symbolic presentation often found in Byzantine representations of the *Communion of the Apostles, as well as the *Last Supper (which this event was understood to prefigure and with which it is sometimes pictorially linked).
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