Perceptions of children and the concept of childhood have evolved significantly since the Italian Renaissance period. During the Renaissance, we begin to see an acknowledgment of childhood as a unique and important life stage. In portraiture of children from this period, there is evidence of the recognition of children as valid portrait subjects. The dates of the artwork featured in this exhibition range from the 1430s to the late 1500s.
Sadly, these fascinating images of children have been considered less significant than religious artwork or portraits featuring adults. Historically, there has been far less study of art featuring children. The way children are used in these Renaissance paintings and sculptures can help us glean valuable insight into the way society viewed and used images of children. This exhibition endeavors to compare and contrast four important artists of the Renaissance.
The Renaissance artists Raphael, Desiderio da Settignano, Agnolo Bronzino, and Sofonisba Anguissola provide numerous examples of depictions of children in their work. Whether their approach was secular or nonsecular, these artists used children in their work to make a statement. The artists approached depictions of children in varying ways, yet we can use them all to piece together an understanding of children and the role they played in society during this period. Raphael's works selected for this exhibition are from his Madonna and Child series. Images of Christ had an impact on the way children were portrayed in secular art. We often see the iconography associated with Christ expressed in portraits of children, signifying their religious devotion and moral character. Desiderio's work involving children similarly had religious undertones: Desiderio infused the likeness of Christ into sculpted busts of young boys. Bronzino and Anguissola used their young sitters as a way to advertise the families to which they belonged. These paintings call attention to the family's wealth and highlight their prominent social status.