Arts Everyday Living: Happy Mother’s Day-A Gallery of Art-from Renaissance to Impressionism





Mothers and maternal bonding have always been central to the history of Western art. So let’s take a visual journey from the beginnings of the  Renaissance period to the Impressionist movement.  Starting with Giotto, considered one of the giants of art history, introducing naturalism into what had been mainly the non-realistic, symbolic tradition of the Middle Ages. For even though Giotto’s Madonna and Child is ultimately religious in purpose, celebrating the divinity of its subjects, the rather muscular Christ child mischievously  grabs for the rose (a sign of purity) Mary is presenting, while he holds firmly onto her finger with a distinctly chubby hand.


Giotto (c. 1265-1337), Madonna and Child, c. 1310/1315, tempera on poplar panel, Samuel H. Kress Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.


Yet, some 150 years later, Northern Renaissance artist Dirck Bouts who lived in what is now modern Belgium and Netherlands, portrays the tender feelings of a new and evidently young mother. Carefully supporting the tiny Christ child, cradling him with her graceful hands, while he sits happily tugging on the white cloth, secure in his mother’s protection.


Dirck Bouts (c. 1415/1420-1475), Madonna and Child, c. 1465, oil on panel, Patrons’ Permanent Fund, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.


Art historians are still not certain of the role of  the Renaissance Venetian master Tintoretto in creating  The Madonna of the Stars below done about a century after Bouts’s work. This time Mary bows in devoted adoration of her holy son who sweetly returns her gaze; both now occupying a celestial realm, surrounded by a host of angelic cherubim and a circle of stars.


Jacopo Tintoretto (c. 1518/1519-1594) and Workshop, 1575/1585, oil on canvas, Ralph and Mary Booth Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.


With the portrait of Susanna Fourment and her daughter Clara, done by Baroque Flemish artist Sir Anthony Van Dyck, in the early 17th century, we are returning to the more earthly sphere.  Although likely a commission, Van Dyck knew both sitters, the in-laws of his mentor and famous colleague Peter Paul Rubens. For isn’t it apparent? Particularly in the unforgettable figure of Clara smiling warmly at posterity, welcoming the viewer into her private world and loving relationship with her proud mother.


Sir Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641), Susanna Fourment and Her Daughter, 1621, oil on canvas, Andrew W. Mellon Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.


Although painted in the 18th century by Rococo French artist Charles Amedee Philippe van Loo, isn’t this unknown mother having to cope with the newest technological distraction? The camera obscura may not exactly be a cellphone but it appears to be quite intriguing to her curious children. Or does she seem unfazed, perhaps content to be sharing in their adventure.


Charles Amedee Philippe Van Loo (1719-1795), The Camera Obscura, oil on canvas, 1764, Gift of Robert Schuette, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.


Are you surprised that this 1867 painting is by the iconic French Impressionist Claude Monet? Here the artist offers us a rare interior view with his wife and son, the future models of the sun-filled visions of the 1870s, either posing in the family garden or roaming the nearby countryside. However, life is just starting for baby Jean who seems to be resisting a nap in spite of his appealing toys, while Camille patiently waits until that moment when sleep inevitably overcomes him.


Claude Monet (1840-1926), The Cradle–Camile with the Artist’s Son, Jean, 1867, oil on canvas, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.


Finally, a farewell from Madame Stumpf and her daughter Madeleine who would one day own this painted memory of a summer day with her mother by French landscapist Corot—standing always together in the quiet beauty of the forest.


Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1796-1875), Madame Stumpf and Her Daughter, 1872, oil on canvas, Ailsa Mellon Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.




In the public domain, courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

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