Skip to main content
Create interactive lessons using any digital content including wikis with our free sister product
. Get it on the
Pages and Files
Disability or Genius
All European Rejects
Andy Goldsworthy - Playing in the Woods
Architecture In Fashion
Art Bands' Art
Art Bands' Art II
Art in the sixties
Art Nouveau in Advertising
Artist's Best Friend
Arts and Crafts Movement
Beauty - What Is It?
Bling Through the Ages
Brains Behind Art
Building Steven's Universe
Challenge What You Find Beautiful
Chinese Funerary Practices Throughout History
Cloaking and Masking in Dada and Surrealism
Comic Books and how they provide commentary on society
Currently in Progress
Dark Side of Human Nature
Depression in Art
Disability or Genius
Disney and Its Hidden Art History References
Don't Go with the Crowd
Earth Without Art is just Eh
Effects of Synesthesia on Art
Fashion Designers Who Stole from Art History
Fractals in Art
Goya and political art
Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele
Hidden Self Portraits
Hips Don't Lie
I Pad Art
If Picasso Can Do It... So Can You
Intentional Exaggeration and Distortion of Human Form
Life After Death
Lifestyles of the Rich and the Famous
Muses of Leonardo Da Vinci
Ninth Grade Art History Unit
Oh Baby Baby
Picasso and Stravinsky
Poetry and Art
Sports in Art
Structures in Paintings
Subjects in Photography- Old versus New Photography
Taring Padi and the Indonesian Underground
The Artist and the Environmentalist
the Birth of art schools
The Development of Film's Narrative Language
The Evolution of Chinese Funerary Practices
The evolution of pigments
The Forgotten Photographer
The History of the MoMA
The Impact of Impasto
The Influence of Classical Artworks and Art Movements on Contemporary Media
The Modern Age of Comic Books
The Perfect Heist
To Serve the People
Transition to Realism in Soviet Propaganda
Visionaries - Artist of the Mind, Body, and Soul
Water, the Essence of Life
What is a Shadow?
Whatcha Looking at Funny?
Women & Romanticism
You Can't Spell Paint without Pain
Oh Baby Baby
The presence of young figures in artwork has changed and adapted through history. Youthful beings, such as babies and toddlers, have been known to represent innocence, purity, and fragility. With time comes development of artistic styles; as artists and sculptors developed the standard of human proportions, they also developed a proportional standard for children and babies. Artistic advances have been made throughout time, allowing for more realistic depictions of youthful figures as they would appear in real life. However, like any subject in an artwork, all components of a piece are influenced by the artistic themes and movements of their given time. While the meaning and symbolism regarding youth in artwork has remained generally consistent throughout time, the depictions of such beings varies greatly.
Now, let’s break things down a bit. How many people look at pieces of artwork with nice, calm looking babies prominently displayed and think “wow, this piece makes me feel angry and anxious?” The answer, or at least from what I can tell, is not many people. By nature, babies alleviate stress. They can make people forget about large scale problems, even if it is for a short period of time. They bring a person’s mind to a simpler place, therefore allowing for happy thoughts to consume the individual. The same theme applies to a piece in which the youthful figure is in some type of turmoil or distress. Therefore, the emotion of the child affects the overall emotion of the piece.
The emotions displayed by babies in artwork directly correlate with the intended emotion evoked by the piece. If the baby is angry, the piece is typically hectic and frantic. If the baby is happy, the piece is meant to be tranquil. The innocence of babies allows for a lack of filter in regards to their emotions. If they are feeling a certain way, there is nothing telling them to keep from displaying their emotions. The display of infant emotions in artwork can be seen as mimicking the basic unfiltered human nature. This allows for artists to give a very obvious display of their intended theme in any given piece. Young figures in artwork have the power to alter the overall message of the piece.
Two girls playing ephedrismos
Late 4th to 3rd century B.C.E., Greece
This terracotta sculpture depicts two young girls playing a game known as ephedrismos. This game entails two people throwing a ball or pebble at a stone in hopes of overturning it. The player who cannot overturn the stone is blindfolded and must carry the winner on their back, as depicted in the sculpture. The figures give off a sense of innocence and purity. This piece was created at a time prior to the establishment of ideal human proportions in artwork and therefore, the makeup of the girl’s bodies is essentially a smaller version of a grown person. In real life, this is not the case. The proportions of the piece, or lack thereof, show the aged nature of this piece. However, although the body makeup is not ideal, the carefree and lively vibe given off by the girls adds a youthfulness that makes up for the incorrect body proportions and lack of liveliness.
Virgin and Child in Majesty
1150-1200 CE, Auvergne, France
This piece, made from walnut wood with paint, was created in the Auvergne region of France. The pose shown, with the child Christ seated in the Virgin’s lap, is known as “Sedes Sapientiae,” which means “Throne of Wisdom.” The child represents wisdom, and was therefore often depicted holding a bible. This type of sculpture was typically small and given as a gift. It is noticeable that baby Christ looks like a small version of a grown man. This might have to do with the fact that with age comes wisdom, and the sculptor and painter wanted to reinforce Christ's aged wisdom. The aged depiction of the child could also be due to a lack of of experience with creating youthful figures. The sculptor and painter could have simply made a small-scale image of a grown man, due to experience with depicting grown men. In any case, the child looks like a grown man who was made proportionally smaller than the Virgin Mary.
The Small Cowper Madonna- Raphael
Oil on Panel
In the Renaissance, the virgin and child scene differs from its predecessors in that the figures are softer and more lifelike, and are looking out towards the viewer but not making eye contact. The light and serene nature of the piece, as well as the detail and fine brush work is quintessential of the High Renaissance, and t
he child's calm facial expression adds a sense of serenity to the piece. The interlocking pose displayed was inspired by Leonardo da Vinci, and clearly displays Raphael’s understanding of human proportions. Raphael was also inspired by da Vinci's exploration of the human anatomy. The child is slightly rotund, and not idealized much like other images of young Jesus were. Jesus’s plain and innocent expression as well as his physical contact with the Virgin show his dependence on her and the power of their connection. During this time period, depictions of the virgin and child were often given as wedding presents.
The Rape of Ganymede- Rembrandt Van Rijn
1636, the Netherlands
Oil on canvas
This piece embodies the power of emotion evoked by babies in artwork. The distraught facial expression of the baby adds to the powerful nature of the piece. Had the child's expression been more calm, the entire dynamic of the artwork would be different. While slightly disturbing, the work contains large amounts of drama, complemented by expressive use of light and dark. The piece is supposedly poking fun at Michaelangelo’s depiction of the same story. Some interpret this piece as being a parody of more traditional paintings, with an overly-emphasized emotional face on the child. Compositionally, the piece resembles many made in the same time period. The piece also contains Baroque elements such as the baby's limbs protruding out towards the viewer.
Las Meninas- Diego Velazquez
Oil on canvas
Las Meninas, by Diego Velazquez, is a landmark in painting from Spain in the seventeenth century. The focal point of the piece is the five-year-old daughter of the royal family of Spain. She is being waited on by her servants, and is poised in a regal manner. In earlier group scenes containing children, the young are usually off to the side and not the center of attention. This piece differs from previous group portraits because it is posed in a candid sort of way, as if a snapshot in time. The young girl sets a tone of grandeur and pompousness, looking out towards the viewer as if they are below her socially.
Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California- Dorothea Lange
Gelatin silver print
In this photograph, taken during the great depression, a mother protects her young baby while her two other children huddle around her. The photographer, Dorothea Lange, was employed by the Farm Security Administration (FSA) and took pictures to document farm laborers as they migrated Westward to escape the treacherous dustbowl conditions in search of work. The image quickly became the symbol of the struggles American farmers faced during the Great Depression. The image epitomizes the ideal relationship between children and adults. Fear and sadness are evoked by the two children around the woman, as she offers protection. Innocence is also provided with the presence of the baby. The image displays super-realism in that Lange did not attempt to idealize the scene, the figures are dirty and clearly fatigued. Lange’s goal with this image was to document exactly what she encountered.
Guernica, Pablo Picasso
Oil on canvas
Guernica, a massive and overwhelming abstract painting by Pablo Picasso, shows the capability of youthful figures in art to be able to display a sense of innocence. The piece was created after a bombing in Guernica, Spain before World War II. German planes dropped bombs on the town, intentionally leading to nearly 400 civilian deaths. Picasso’s abstract depiction of that infamous day shows the hectic nature of the scene shedding light on the atrocity that took place. The piece as a whole is disturbing to the viewer and evokes raw emotion in the viewer through the pain present. In the bottom left corner, a woman cries in anguish while holding a dead child. The presence of this dead child in the painting adds a very real idea of the murder of innocence. Without the child present, there is less evidence to show that the attack was aimed towards everyday civilians.
"Guernica, 1937 by Pablo Picasso." Guernica by Pablo Picasso. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 June 2015.
"Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History." Two Girls Playing a Game Known as Ephedrismos [Greek, Corinthian] (07.286.4). Metropolitan Museum of Art, n.d. Web. 02 June 2015.
"Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History." Virgin and Child in Majesty [French] (16.32.194). Metropolitan Museum of Art, n.d. Web. 01 June 2015.
"MoMA Learning." MoMA Learning Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 June 2015.
"Rape of Ganymede 1635." Rape of Ganymede 1635. Www.rembrandtonline.org, n.d. Web. 02 June 2015.
Russell, Margarita. "The Iconography of Rembrandt's Rape of Ganymede."JSTOR. Netherlands Quarterly for the History of Art, n.d. Web. 01 June 2015.
"The Small Cowper Madonna." The Small Cowper Madonna. National Gallery of Art, n.d. Web. 01 June 2015.
"Visit the Museum." Museo Nacional Del Prado: On-line Gallery. Museo Nacional Del Prado, n.d. Web. 29 May 2015.
help on how to format text
Turn off "Getting Started"