Child iconography in Lithuania and the world (Part I) 0

Marius Vyšniauskas, 2015-09-10

In brief: Studying visual art catalogs, historians have focused on adult images as a way to reveal an atmosphere of specific period while not that much attention was paid to child portraits. So, in the first part of the article series we will look at children's iconography from ancient times to the seventeenth century in a context of Lithuania and the world, assessing to what extent portraits were affected by political and cultural factors.

Gravestone stela of a girl with pigeons, which is exhibited at the Metropolitan museum was found in 1775, in Paros Island at the Cycladic archipelago. It is in these islands, which are rich with highest quality marble that artfully carved antique gravestones remained. In one of them, a girl stands with a lowered head in profile full of non-childish concentration. She is wearing a peplos, a simple woolen garment pinned on the shoulder. The gentle peacefulness of the child is beautifully expressed through her sweet farewell to her pet pigeons. It should be noted, that children were depicted on the classical gravestones with their pets as evidenced by another, equally expressive stela belonging to the girl Melisto - here she is depicted with a little doll and a puppy.

Throughout history, children and adult images merged, for example in Byzantium and medieval Europe. That happened because children, for a long time, were eliminated from society, they were perceived as a direct parental property.

When we start talking about the art of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, we might get depressed, because compared to the other European countries we do not have a single original portrait of a Grand Duke or his family member's childhood portrait. The image of young Vytautas the Great could be mentioned among the more original LDK portraits (1350–1430), where looking at the  monarch's face we can see a boyish grin rather than scorching look so common in later portraits. It should be noted that the portraits of children in 15th to 17th century were painted in the light of a personal fate, so armor is a common element of the costume, for example Antoon van Dyck's, (1599-1641) "Charles II, Prince of Wales, wearing armor" (1638).

Although Spanish and the Lithuanian-Polish Commonwealth cultural and historical ties were not that close, but namely Spanish fashion, partly affected our homeland. In 1615 Sigismund III envoy in the palace of Madrid asked Philip III for reliable portraits of the ruling family, in the name of the Polish king. After several years, they had most probably become models for his elegant sons, who were portrayed for the christening occasion of Ana Kataržina Konstancija in September of 1619. Thus, it is no wonder that D. Velaskuez and M. Kober paintings have certain similarities. One of the more notable works of D. Velazquez '"Infanta Margarita Teresa in a Blue Dress"(1659) belongs to the portrait series of the Spanish king's daughter Margarita Teresa de Austria, 1651 – 1673.

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