JF Ptak Science Books Post 2426
Part of the Children's Art series
I've written a number of times on this blog on art created by children--actualyl antiquarian children's art, art made by kids from, say, before 1900. That, and the depiction of kids' art in work by painters through the centuries but before the last one. The second seems to be much more uncommon than the uncommon first category. For many good reasons, artwork made before (an arbitrary) 1900 seems to be fairly scarce, and when you to to <1850, scarcer yet, particularly when you remove the work of the privileged classes. For the majority of people unused paper was not a common thing, certainly nothing as it is today when you can get a ream of paper for virtually nothing; in the 1850s, a child with access to paper and the means to express themselves on it would certainly have been a restricted minority.
As a "collector"of sorts of antique art by children most of what I have as doodles and artwork drawn on the blank pages of books, or their covers, or in ledgers, really more like kidlife marginalia, expressions of creativity on whatever paper was available. It seems to me that the majority of kids would not have had much access to these means of production, especially if their major outlet for writing in school was slate and chalk. Add to this difficulty the fact that the artwork would have to have survived the whims and taste and etc. of four or five and more generations of moves and house cleaning and so on, and the chances of childhood art's survival become thinner and thinner.
This all comes up again because today for the first time I have seen this fantastic painting by Giovanni Francesco Caroto "Portrait of a Young Boy holding a Child's Drawing" (Ritratto di Fanciullo con Disegno,), painted around 1515. I'm certain that I've never seen any artwork earlier than this and in an article that I saw in The Independent the author claims that this is the first artwork to depict a child's artwork. It is a remarkable thing, seeing this drawing so proudly displayed by the child. Also it is not common to see someone in portraiture at this early stage with such a big toothy smile!
It is also incredible how in nearly all cases in recovering art by children that they basically look pretty much the same, for thousands of years. Perhaps with the vast majority of children performing artworks they all have about the same facility to reproduce what they were feeling or seeing, and so the continuing historical sameness.
This is no less than a great classic in the history of art by children.
I've researched this painting a little and don't care too much for what I've found in some cases, in the interpretation of the painting--just a little unsettling with an uncomfortable fit. In one instance Harry Angelman, the identifier/discoverer of Angelman's Syndrome1, saw this painting while in Italy and was much taken with it and associated the child with the children ad the disorders that he was studying. In other cases there are associations drawn between this painting and Jean Dubuffet's Art Brut, which is another direction that I really don't care for too much.
1. Angelman Syndrome: "is a neuro-genetic disorder characterized by severe intellectual and developmental disability, sleep disturbance, seizures, jerky movements (especially hand-flapping), frequent laughter or smiling, and usually a happy demeanor."
For some interesting reading in the history of childhood:
The classic by Philippe Ariès, Centuries of Childhood: A Social History of Family Life (London: Jonathan Cape, 1962)
Lawrence Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage in England 1500-1800 (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1977)
Linda Pollock, Forgotten Children: Parent-Child Relations from 1500-1900 (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1983)