Monday, May 13, 2013

Painting of the Day: Portrait of a Baby, 1690-1730

The Victoria & Albert Museum

While portraits of babies were decidedly more common during the Victorian era when children were more openly cherished, portraits of infants from the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century are considerably rarer. Infant mortality was a fact of life, and while, children were loved, parents were more realistic about their survival. So, it’s rather odd to see a portrait of a baby dating between 1690 and 1730. I should point out here that portraits of infants painted during this period—though rare—almost always were memorial portraits of a deceased child in burial clothes.

Here, the robust health and life of the child are very much the focus in this portrait of a baby, in oil color on canvas, of portrait proportions. The child sits, propped against white pillows between curtains of dark blue satin—probably on a bed. He or she wears a high-necked white garment with long full sleeves gathered into a frill at the wrist, and a close-fitting cap of white fabric which has been trimmed with lace and a band of pale pink ribbon.

The painting is attributed to Mary Beale, or possibly, one of her students. Some speculate that the subject is Beale’s own child.

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