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« Ugly Renaissance Babies | Main | To Hint Of Religion, Or Not To Hint Of Religion (Norman Costa) »

December 03, 2011


Wow, thank you, Ruchira! AB yields to a plea to take ugly Renaissance babies seriously! XOXOXO

This is something no Byzantine painter ever heard of doing. A Virgin enthroned on a huge wall 30 feet up from where the viewer stands is not meant to look like a sweet British mom wondering at the miracle of her rosy child. The heavy dark lines describing the faces are meant to suggest modeling and somberness from a great distance, in candlelight.

This reminds me of the Greek Orthodox Church I used to go to. The image that you're referring to here is called the Platytera, if I remember correctly, and in that particular church, one of the priests once observed that Mary's raised hand was so close to the Christ child's face that it looked like she was going to slap him! *laughing*

Wonderful Elatia!! I am a huge fan of Pamuk's My Name is Red as it also tells the story of a different understanding and approach to art--beyond the representational. It is a wonderful book if you haven't read it, Elatia, I think you would love it.

Su Shi, when writing about Chinese painting, also said something illuminating about how, while even a child could produce a work of realistic likeness, that only a true scholar and a gentleman was able to create art of moral value; so that even from within the confines of the city the viewer could be utterly transported. Su Shi praised this kind of art that could induce a state which could put the viewer in touch with the simplicity of nature-- or in his words: with the dao. Don't quote me on ay of this--since all my books are back in japan but didn't Heidegger also write that if a work of art is "working" it will illuminate all kinds of meaning and light up for the viewer an understanding of being (so when that Medieval cathedrals were like "encyclopedias of stone" for a Medieval believer--while for us maybe they are just formally beautiful? This is not unlike what is going on with the babies, except maybe they don't even show up to modern viewers as beautiful?) Enjoyed!!

I wonder if some of the baby Jesus faces were infantilized reflection of adult patrons who commissioned the images, just like the one in the photo that you have included, even though the comparison there is with a photo of a 20th/21st century adult.

I looked on the web for baby Krishna images, just for comparison's sake and found a bunch of suitably charming infants in blue, all of which post-date the Victorian period. Any earlier representations of the infant Krishna looked more adult-like, even in dimensions compared with other figures in the pictures.

This won't be aesthetic or intellectual, but I am reminded of an old BBC joke. A BBC reporter was going to interview the last Hansom cab driver in London, and ask why the others are so ugly. Do I hear a groan, out there?

One of my fellow grad students, majoring in developmental psychology, told me that the depiction of babies/children in pre-ren paintings as little adults, was indicative of psychological immaturity, and egotism on the part of the artists. They lacked the appropriate, mature psychological perspective to see children as anything other than smaller models of themselves.

I guess I sort of believed her at the time, yet, I could not imagine an artist not being able to discern such important distinctions in form among his or her study subjects.

I was at a meeting on Saturday evening for a couple of hours. When I returned home I read the original post that preceded this one on AB. I was thinking as I read that we have a usual and frequent visitor to this blog who could enlighten us all on this subject, and answer the question, "Why are these babies so ugly?" Well, I hadn't refreshed this page for many hours. When I did, Voila! Now we know.

Very interesting, Elatia. Thanks!

I can't accept the assumption that during the Renaissance viewers of paintings of babies were interested fundamentally in comparing them to real-life cognates, as if the cause of their pleasure or illumination were in reverse engineering the work of the artist. That seems to me to be a modern concern. See again the wonderful SNL skit from the very early days featuring Dan Aykroyd as the lascivious art critic, E. Buzz Miller, who these days would host a Hot Babes of the Renaissance web site.

Springing from Elatia's informative comments, take a peak at these remarks by Leo Steinberg, from his book-length article in October (a journal), "The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modern Oblivion."

What is involved here is a misunderstanding of a critical truth: that naturalistic motifs in religious Renaissance art are never adequately accounted for by their prevalence in life situations. Ordinary experience is no template for automatic transfer to art. There are many things babies do--crawling on all fours, for instance, before they start walking--which no artist, however deeply committed to realism, ever thought of imputing to the Christ Child. For the infant Christ, in Renaissance as in medieval art, is like no other child, whether he sits up to give audience, or rehearses the Crucifixion; whether he hands the keys of the kingdom to Peter, or snatches a makeshift cross from his playmate St. John. He engages in actions, such as eating grapes, or perusing a book, from which common babies desist. And long before normal toddlers learn to put round pegs in round holes, he deftly slips a ring on St. Catherine's finger. In short, the depicted Christ, even in babyhood, is at all times the Incarnation--very man, very God. Therefore, when a Renaissance artist quickens an Infancy scene with naturalistic detail, he is not recording this or that observation, but revealing in the thing observed a newfound compatibility with his subject.

Everyone, thanks so much for reading! This afternoon I tried to write a reply in detail but it was gobbled up. Testing!

It is indeed strange Elatia that A.B. is eating up your comments. Others have written longish comments on the post. Dean's is in fact replete with references to Christ. So what is happening to yours? I would hate to see you "blocked" for no discernible reason. The funny thing was that I could post my own comments but couldn't copy and paste yours! I guess A.B. wants you to be a regular "author" here and not just a commenter!

@ Those frustrated by non-publishing of comments:

I have had the same problem, intermittently. There was nothing obviously amiss with the content of the reply or post. After many unsuccessful attempts to re-post or diagnose the problem I hit upon a couple of ways to get around the problem.

1. Copy the content into a pure text processor (no special formatting, etc.) like NotePad in Windows. Then copy it directly into AB from NotePad.

2. Break up the content into two pieces and make the reply/post a part 1 and part 2. Do this even though AB should be able to handle the length or your original.

3. Before pasting into AB, refresh your page/screen.

I have had a problem in the past with non-printing characters (you can't see them but they are there) that cause problems. They tend to be characters that start or finish a command, or AB thinks a command was started or finished. The problem may have to do with the fact that (transparent to you) different implementations of UNICODE and WESTERN character sets may not map properly or have 'sticky' characters that are brought along to AB.

4. Don't forget to do number 3.

Thanks for the pointers, Norman.

I thought I had figured out most of the quirks that A.B. displays from time to time. But in trying to help Elatia get her comment out there, I failed. I tried your suggestion #1 in order to erase whatever conflicting HTML code may have been embedded in the original. But that did not work either. #3 must have happened because after each failed attempt and reposting, the page was refreshed. In the end I got Elatia's permission to just publish it as a post, a better option for sure.

I am going to send you the text of that comment which is essentially the same as the body of that post. It came originally from Elatia's Facebook page where I had put the link to the "Ugly Babies" link. Please see if you can post it in the comments section of this post where Elatia and I were trying to publish it. If you are successful, please leave it there. I will delete it when I see it.

I just copied and pasted the text of this post as a comment on the former. Seems to have worked.

Dean, you copied the post here. I am assuming that whatever conflicting factors were preventing me and Elatia from posting got sorted out by TypePad in this format. I am sending you and Norm the text copied from Facebook where Elatia first wrote it. See if that shows up.

@ Ruchira, Elatia, Dean:

So the only fix I see, without doing what Dean did is to make sure you hit ENTER after pasting text.

However, if the problems begins anew, I suggest Ruchira delete the immediately preceding comment and re-post the missing text. If still a problem, then delete the earlier posts, one by one. The point is that there may be non-printing characters in prior posts that are causing problems.

Otherwise, it beats the hell out of me what is going on or why the ENTER fix works. In programmer speak we refer to a fix we can't explain as FM (F*****G Magic.)

All this over something I wrote! I'm so flattered...

As I said to Norm and Dean, the Twilight Zone of appearing and disappearing comments was either a ghostly phenomenon or the Curse of the Ugly Dead Babies.

At least I have discovered it's not something specific to my computer...(famous last words)

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