October 10, 2023

The Secret Behind Ugly Medieval Babies

Dive into the real reason why there are so many ugly babies in medieval art...

There’s no nice way to put it: in medieval art, babies were pretty damn ugly. 

But why?

Duccio di Buoninsegna,
"Crevole Madonna"
(c. 1283-1284)

It’s not because artists hadn’t worked out how to paint them properly – in fact, this was a deliberate stylistic choice… In medieval artwork, one baby popped up a whole lot more than the others: Jesus Christ

There was a popular notion that Jesus was born “perfectly formed” and remained “unchanged” over time; this led to artists depicting him as a sort of weird little old man – and influenced portrayals of other babies too!

Master of Madonna of Veveří,
"Madonna of Veveří"
(1344-1350)

This all changed with the dawn of the Renaissance, and a new emphasis on realism in art.

Raphael,
"Alba Madonna"
(c. 1511)

Plus, as artists began to embrace non-religious subjects, wealthy patrons could commission portraits of their own families – and they didn’t want their own children looking like little old men!

Juan Bautista Martínez del Mazo,
"The Artist's Family"
(1665)

So, ugly babies were out and cute babies were in. Way less disturbing, but nowhere near as fun…

Master of the Kress Epiphany,
"The Expulsion of the Money-Changers"
(c. 1480-1500)