During college, I studied European History. With my history courses, art history courses were a must. You don’t study medieval European history without taking a few courses in art history along the way. One thing I learned... babies from the past were really frightening.
I had the opportunity to study abroad in Rome and during my time in the city and elsewhere in Italy I saw my fair share of churches and the art work that adorns them. One image that is impossible to miss is that of Mary holding Baby Jesus. Artists used this scene repeatedly to conjure emotions within their viewers about the maternal bond between mother and child. These images signified the moment Mary first held her newborn son, but were also meant to foreshadow the inevitability of his death and her mourning.
No other image permeates Christian art as much as Mary and Jesus together. This became obvious to me when I realized the only distinguishing attribute between so many similar representations of mother and child was how the artist chose to portray his baby Jesus. During site visits to churches with my class I found myself amused and sometimes creeped out by these depictions of the baby. Most of the time he resembles a middle-aged man with a receding hair line, performing what seems to be a hostile action against his mother. The artists’ intended feelings of maternal bond were lost on me, but I found a helpful way to discern between each painting.
Fortunately for me I don’t have to feel too guilty about making fun of images of the Virgin and Child. Someone else shares my humor and has posted a tumblr of Renaissance pictures depicting these two with hilarious commentaries below. Hope you have a good laugh with these pictures. Enjoy: