IDLE SPECULATIONS: Childhood

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Monday, September 28, 2009

Childhood


Maerten van Heemskerck (1498, -. 1574)
Family Portrait
c. 1530
Oil on wood, 118 x 140 cm
Staatliche Museen, Kassel


Gabriel Metsu (1629, - 1667)
The Sick Child
c. 1660
Oil on canvas, 33,2 x 27,2 cm
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam


Johann Anton de Peters (1725, - 1795)
The Happy Mother c. 1775
Watercolour, 573 x 420 mm
Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne


Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723, - 1792)
Lady Cockburn and her Three Eldest Sons
1773

Oil on canvas, 141,5 x 113 cm
National Gallery, London


Thomas Cole 1801 - 1848
The Voyage of Life: Childhood, 1842
Oil on canvas
Overall: 134.3 x 195.3 cm (52 7/8 x 76 7/8 in.) framed: 162.9 x 224.8 x 17.8 cm (64 1/8 x 88 1/2 x 7 in.)
The National Gallery of Art, Washington


George Baxter (1804-1867), after S.B. Hallé (1824-1899)
The First Lesson
1855
Baxter print
The Victoria and Albert Museum, London


George Bernard O’Neill (1828-1917)
About Fairies
About 1879
Etching
The Victoria and Albert Museum, London


Mary Cassatt (1844–1926)
Gardner and Ellen Mary Cassatt 1899
Pastel on wove paper, originally mounted on a stainer
25 x 18 3/4 in. (63.5 x 47.6 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York


Mary Cassatt 1844 - 1926
Mother and Child, c. 1905
Oil on canvas
Overall: 92.1 x 73.7 cm (36 1/4 x 29 in.) framed: 114.3 x 95.2 cm (45 x 37 1/2 in.)
Chester Dale Collection
The National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

Maerten van Heemskerck`s portrait of a family is one of the most important works of portraiture in 16th-century Netherlandish art.

The youngest child in the mother's lap holds out to the viewer the crucifix that hangs from her rosary.

The signet ring identifies the father as Peter Jan Foppeszoon, a wealthy burgher, town councillor and church warden of St Bavo in Harlem. By 1530, his wife Alijdt Mathijsdr. had given birth to three children, Jan, then around five years old, Cornelia, about three, and Pieter, born around 1530.

De Hooch`s portrait concentrates on motherhood. His paintings are noted for the quality of the domestic scenes which were very popular in his time.

According to the newly fashionable exaltation of maternity, Augusta Anne, Sir James Cockburn's second wife, is posed with her three children (although separate sittings are recorded for the elder boys).

James, the cherub kneeling on the left, born in 1771, became a general; George, born in 1772 and clambering around his mother's neck, grew up to be the admiral whose ship conveyed Napoleon to exile on St Helena; the baby, William, born that June, entered the Church and became Dean of York.

When the painting was etched for publication, and Sir James objected to his wife's name being exposed in public, the print was entitled Cornelia and her Children after the Roman matron who boasted that her children were her only jewels

The Voyage of Life series, painted by Thomas Cole in 1840, is a series of paintings that represent an allegory of the four stages of human life: childhood, youth, manhood, and old age. It is a Christian allegory.

Cole was the founder of the Hudson River School, an American art movement that flourished in the mid-19th century and was concerned with the realistic and detailed portrayal of nature.

In each painting, accompanied by a guardian angel, the voyager rides the boat on the River of Life. The landscape, corresponding to the seasons of the year, plays a major role in telling the story.

In childhood, the infant glides from a dark cave into a rich, green landscape. The dark, craggy cave was described by Cole himself as "emblematic of our earthly origin, and the mysterious Past." The river is smooth and narrow, symbolizing the sheltered experience of childhood

Cassatt often created images of the social and private lives of women, with particular emphasis on the intimate bonds between mothers and children.

Her mother and child paintings are rigorously drawn, tenderly observed, yet largely unsentimental. After 1900, she concentrated almost exclusively on mother-and-child subjects

Love, affection, tenderness, humility, the littleness of the child, fragility, the need for protection of the child, happiness, joy, protectiveness, full of real and not affected feeling, the treasuring by parents of their child or children, trust, frailty, innocence, – all are familiar themes of the art of childhood illustrated above

Philippe Ariès, (1914-1984) an important French medievalist and historian, published a study L’Enfant et la Vie Familiale sous l’Ancien Régime (1960), which was translated into English as Centuries of Childhood (1962).

It was a study of paintings, gravestones, furniture, and school records.

He found that before the seventeenth century, children were represented as mini-adults. The central thesis of Centuries of Childhood is that attitudes towards children were progressive and evolved over time with economic change and social advancement, until childhood, as a concept and an accepted part of family life, came into being in the seventeenth century

He is known for his famous statement that 'in medieval society the idea of childhood did not exist'

Since then historians have increasingly researched childhood in past times. His thesis remains controversial.

Harry Hendrick in Children and Childhood, in The Journal of the Economic History Society (1992) lists four criticisms of Ariès's work:

"Firstly that his data are either unrepresentative or unreliable. Secondly that he takes evidence out of context, confuses prescription with practice, and uses atypical examples. Thirdly, that he implicitly denies the immutability of the special needs of children, for food, clothing, shelter, affection and conversation. Fourthly, that he puts undue emphasis on the work of moralists and educationalists while saying little of economic and political factors"

There are two main groups of writings on the concept of childhood. Those of medieval and early modern historians concerned with whether or not such a concept existed at all; that is, whether there was a recognition that children were different prior to the seventeenth century. There are also those historians who have proposed a developing concept in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries

The article by Hendrick (at http://www.ehs.org.uk/society/pdfs/Hendrick%2015a.pdf) is quite a useful discussion of the history of childhood as presently understood especially the history of childhood in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

In 19th century Britain there came about a conception of childhood as an innocent, separate state to be shielded and prolonged.

Paintings of children were thought to be intellectually undemanding and were often dismissed by critics.

Yet some of the most acclaimed artists of the day took up the subject, and images of children proliferated across illustration and commercial graphics. They seek a protective, affectionate pang from the viewer and evoke nostalgia for the inevitably fleeting nature of childhood

A reading of Psalm 130 [131] prompted Pope Benedict XVI to discuss that much misunderstood phrase “Spiritual Childhood”.

Psalm 130 [131] reads:

“A gradual canticle of David.

1 Lord, my heart is not exalted: nor are my eyes lofty. Neither have I walked in great matters, nor in wonderful things above me.

2 If I was not humbly minded, but exalted my soul: As a child that is weaned is towards his mother, so reward in my soul.

3 Let Israel hope in the Lord, from henceforth now and for ever.”

Adonai, Adonai,
Lo gavah libi,
V'lo ramu einai,
V'lo hilachti
Big'dolot uv'niflaot
Mimeni.

Im lo shiviti
V'domam'ti,
Naf'shi k'gamul alei imo,
Kagamul alai naf'shi.
Yahel Yis'rael el Adonai
Me'atah v'ad olam.

Lord, Lord,
My heart is not haughty,
Nor mine eyes lofty,
Neither do I exercise myself
In great matters or in things
Too wonderful for me to understand.

Surely I have calmed
And quieted myself,
As a child that is weaned of his mother,
My soul is even as a weaned child.
Let Israel hope in the Lord
From henceforth and forever.

His talk was given at a General Audience on Wednesday, 10 August 2005:

“Psalm 131 [130]

"My heart is not proud'

Evening Prayer - Tuesday of Week Three

1. We have listened to only a few words, about 30 in the original Hebrew, of Psalm 131[130]. Yet they are intense words that convey a topic dear to all religious literature: spiritual childhood. Our thoughts turn spontaneously to St Thérèse of Lisieux, to her "Little Way", her "remaining little" in order to be held in Jesus' arms (cf. Story of a Soul, Manuscript "C", p. 208).

Indeed, the clear-cut image of a mother and child in the middle of the Psalm is a sign of God's tender and maternal love, as the Prophet Hosea formerly expressed it:

"When Israel was a child I loved him.... I drew [him] with human cords, with bands of love; I fostered [him] like one who raises an infant to his cheeks... I stooped to feed my child" (Hos 11: 1, 4).

2. The Psalm begins by describing an attitude quite the opposite of infancy, which, well aware of its own frailty, trusts in the help of others. In the foreground of this Psalm, instead, are pride of heart, haughty eyes and "great things" that are "too sublime for me" (cf. Ps 131[130]: 1).

This is an illustration of the proud person who is described by Hebrew words that suggest "pride" and "haughtiness", the arrogant attitude of those who look down on others, considering them inferior.

The great temptation of the proud, who want to be like God, the arbiter of good and evil (cf. Gn 3: 5), is decisively rejected by the person of prayer who chooses humble and spontaneous trust in the One Lord.

3. Thus, we move on to the unforgettable image of the mother and child.

The original Hebrew text does not speak of a newborn child but of a child that has been "weaned" (Ps 131[130]: 2). Now, it is known that in the ancient Near East a special celebration marked the official weaning of a child, usually at about the age of 3 (cf. Gn 21: 8; I Sam 1: 20-23; II Mc 7: 27).

The child to which the Psalmist refers is now bound to the mother by a most personal and intimate bond, hence, not merely by physical contact and the need for food. It is a more conscious tie, although nonetheless immediate and spontaneous.

This is the ideal Parable of the true "childhood" of the spirit that does not abandon itself to God blindly and automatically, but serenely and responsibly.

4. At this point, the praying person's profession of trust is extended to the entire community: "O Israel, hope in the Lord both now and forever" (Ps 131[130]: 3). In the entire people which receive security, life and peace from God, hope now blossoms and extends from the present to the future, "now and forever".

It is easy to continue the prayer by making other voices in the Psalms ring out, inspired by this same trust in God:

"To you I was committed at birth, from my mother's womb you are my God" (Ps 22[21]: 11).

"Though my father and mother forsake me, yet will the Lord receive me" (Ps 27[26]: 10).

"For you are my hope, O Lord; my trust, O God, from my youth. On you I depend from birth; from my mother's womb you are my strength" (Ps 71[70]: 5-6).

5. Humble trust, as we have seen, is opposed by pride.

John Cassian, a fourth-fifth century Christian writer, warned the faithful of the danger of this vice that "destroys all the virtues overall and does not only attack the tepid and the weak, but principally those who have forced their way to the top".

He continues:

"This is the reason why Blessed David preserved his heart with such great circumspection, to the point that he dared proclaim before the One whom none of the secrets of his conscience escaped: "Lord, may my heart not grow proud, nor my gaze be raised with haughtiness; let me not seek great things that are beyond my strength'.... Yet, knowing well how difficult such custody is even for those who are perfect, he does not presume to rely solely on his own abilities, but implores the Lord with prayers to help him succeed in avoiding the darts of the enemy and in not being injured by them: "Let not the foot of the proud overtake me' (Ps 36[35]: 12)" (Le Istituzioni Cenobitiche, XII, 6, Abbey of Praglia, Bresseo di Teolo, Padua, 1989, p. 289).

Likewise, an anonymous elderly Desert Father has handed down to us this saying that echoes Psalm 131[130]:

"I have never overstepped my rank to walk higher, nor have I ever been troubled in the case of humiliation, for I concentrated my every thought on this: praying the Lord to strip me of the old man" (I Padri del Deserto. Detti, Rome, 1980, p. 287).

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