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The poses employed to emphasise such physical and emotional interaction are frequently drawn from the lexicons of the Renaissance Madonna and Child. The use of such models for contemporary portraiture, "the borrowing (of) a particular thought, an action, attitude or figure" from artists such as Michelangelo and Raphael, was, needless to say, about more than social ideologies of motherhood. 29 Reynolds set the tone for elevating the lowly genre of portraiture with such references. The poses, the sculptural folds of draped garments that in no way resemble the fashions of the day and the often sombre and muted colouring that characterise these images supported the pretensions of such artists to a 'liberal' profession. They generalised the portrait into something approaching history, they suggested that it was more than a record of a particular figure from a particular time and they intimated artistic ability to rival the ancients. However, the extensive references to Renaissance Madonnas were far from unappealing for the women who were figured in this way.30 They enabled a wider and Discourse VI. in Sir 1. Reynolds. Discourses on Art (1769-1790). ed. R.R. Wark (1766) (London. 4th edition. 1969). p.96 30 As Steward. The New Child, p.117 has pointed out. such conventions ennobled the Georgian mother.
more spiritual frame of reference through association with Mary as Mother, as well as appealing to contemporary preoccupations with the virtues of ancient Roman matrons.
The various sources for such paintings have been frequently elucidated.
Benjamin West's portrait of his wife and son, Raphael of 1770 (fig. 59) is clearly derived from the Madonna della Sedia (fig.60), painted by his son's namesake and seen by the artist during his 1761-2 visit to Florence. Similarly, Edgar Wind related Reynolds's Mrs Hartley as a Nymph with her Son as the Infant Bacchus (1773, The Tate Gallery, London) to the Madonna Domi by Michelangelo, on display in the Uffizi (1503/6).31 However, the majority of these portraits relate to such prototypes in a more general and diffuse way. Shawe-Taylor has noted, with reference to Reynolds's Lady Delme and her Children (1777, National Gallery of Art, Washington), that such physically unified groups recall the Renaissance predilection for carving the Holy Family from one block of stone to emphasise their being of the same flesh. 32 This technique is also visible in the popular use of similarly coloured fabric to garb mother and child and in the description of drapery that encloses and envelops both figures. Other paintings, such as Nathaniel Hone's Mrs Ann Gardiner and her son, Kirkman of 1776 (fig.61), employ the symbols and accoutrements of Madonna and Child imagery. The supporting pose of the mother and the swathed figure of the child are rendered more meaningful by the infant's distant expression, his raised arm and the grapes which he holds to one side. Some, including Reynolds's Lady St. Asalph and her Son, George of 1786 (fig.62), employ suggestions of the Steward, The New Child, p.118; H. von Erffa and A. Staley, The Paintings of Benjamin West (New Haven and London. 1986), p.458; E. Wind, Hume and the Heroic Portrait: Studies in Eighteenth-Century Imagery (Oxford, 1986). p.20 D. Shawe-Taylor, The Georgians: Eighteenth-Century Portraiture and Society (London, 1990), p.192 manger, the child lying on its back as a light falls on its naked form. Finally, portraits such as Reynolds's Lady Cockburn and her Three Eldest Sons of 1773 (fig.6) employ the iconography of the extended group of the Madonna with the Christ Child and St.John.
As has often been noted, the portrait of Lady Cockburn contains a hint of breastfeeding in the white swathed bosom of the lady and the pose of the closely held child, relating both to the iconography of the Virgo Lactans and to the representation of Charity as a suckling woman which had become standard by the sixteenth century.33 Such references, apparent in later eighteenth-century imagery, could usually only remain on this level of inference for obvious reasons of decorum, modesty and chastity and explicit portraits of suckling mothers are extremely rare. Jean-Laurent Mosnier's Mere Allaitant son Enfant, dated to 1762 and on display in Macon (fig.63), is a highly unusual depiction of what would seem to be an upper-class woman breastfeeding her infant. 34 One of the few occasions in Britain that an artist ventured into this territory was when, in 1769, Reynolds painted Hope nursing Love (fig.64).
This was a subject picture modelled on an actress, Miss Morris, and an entirely imaginary infant. However, this outlet, diffusing the specificity of the portrait into a subject picture, still fails to negate the distinctly risque element. 35 * * * * *
The link between this burgeoning sentimentality in portraiture and the impact of the cult of sensibility on the literary ideal of motherhood was occasionally rendered explicit through the depiction of attributes that leave the viewer in no doubt of the sitter's adherence to popular dictates of childrearing. William Hogarth depicted The Edwards Hamilton Family in 1733 (fig.65), at leisure on the terrace of their house in Kensington. Lord Anne holds a flute as he gazes towards his wife whilst his son, Gerard Anne, is engaged in obtaining some water from a fountain. Mary is seated at a table between the two, one hand resting on a copy of The Spectator, open at an essay by Joseph Addison that discusses the virtuous rearing of children, and the other gesturing towards her offspring. She is clearly fulfilling her role according to the dictates of such authors, although this display of virtue is more apparently directed towards her husband than the viewer. Similarly, when Allan Ramsay later painted Queen Charlotte with her Two Eldest Sons between 1764 and 1769 (fig.66), he chose to represent her, not merely as a caring and attentive mother, but as one aware of and accordant with popular strictures on the nature of the parental role. A copy of John Locke's Some Thoughts Concerning Education lies amongst the artefacts on top of the harpsichord and, in the light of standards established by such writers, the Queen is clearly a worthy mother. 36 She supports Prince Frederick on her lap as George leans against her knee grasping a bow and arrows, indulging the need for childish play whilst reinforcing gender roles. The critical function of the mother in raising moral, intelligent and healthy sons to contribute to the nation's resources is considerably heightened in an image that represents the future king of that nation.
1. Locke, Some Thoughts Concerning Education (1693), eds. J.W. and I.S. Yolton (Oxford, 1989), passim.
At the same time as artists began to paint such intimate and affectionate portraits of mothers with their children, prescriptive and fictional literature increasingly emphasised and discussed the maternal role. It was argued by writers such as Lord Kames in the 1770s that women were suited to motherhood by virtue of their gentleness, sympathy and delicacy; qualities inherent to their sex and ideal for "sedentary occupations; and particularly for nursing children."37 Similarly, William Buchan advised that women should manage such domestic affairs as "nature has made them less fit for the more active and laborious employments" whilst 'Philogamus,'
writing much earlier in the century, had been particularly blunt about the connection:
"As Women were principally designed for producing the Species, and Men for other greater Ends: we cannot wonder if their Inclinations and Desires tend chiefly that way."38It was thus baldly and frequently asserted that the tasks of wives, mothers and household managers were "the province allotted to your sex", the "End and Business 37 H. Home, Lord Kames, Sketches of the History of Man 4 Vols. (1778) (Edinburgh and London, 2nd edition, 1788), II, p.2. Priscilla Wakefield, Reflections on the Present Condition of the Female Sex; with Suggestions for its Improvement (London, 1798), p.14 reversed this association in her reassurance to her readers that improved education for women would not render the 'fairer sex' robust as "their natural inferiority in strength, and the indispositions incident to child-bearing will too often secure the feminine delicacy of their persons and constitutions."
38 W. Buchan, Domestic Medicine; or, A Treatise on the Prevention and Cure of Diseases by Regimen and Simple Medicines (1769) (Dublin, 3rd edition, 1774), p.419; 'Philogarnus', The Present State of Matrimony: or, The Real Causes of Conjugal Infidelity and Unhappy Marriages in a Letter to a Friend (London, 1739), p.12. Philogamus's beliefp.68 that women were "destined to have no other general Employments, but to bear and rear the Species" anticipated that of J.J. Rousseau, expressed in (1762), (Harmondsworth, 1991), p.362, that it was women's "proper purpose" to produce Emile children.
of her Relation as a Wife", "the proper Province for private Women to shine in" and "all she has to do in this world."39 The perennial connection between women and childbearing was increasingly glorified as the eighteenth century progressed. Wetenhall Wilkes deemed it "the greatest Commendation by which they [women] can be distinguish'd, to be reckon'd tender Mothers, faithful Wives, kind Mistresses and good Neighbours."4o Samuel Richardson similarly claimed that such duties "dignify a woman" and Fenelon went so far as to assert them to be the "very foundation of human existence."41 Historians have debated whether this construction of motherhood did indeed endow women with a new respected status or whether this exaltation was a discreet reformulation of an insistent patriarchal theme. On the one hand, Ruth Perry has proposed the cult of maternity to be a colonisation of women's bodies for purposes of production and generation. 42 On the other, writers such as Adrian Wilson have claimed that childbirth was an entirely female experience in both social and physical terms, inverting and George Savile, Marquess of Halifax, 'The Lady's New Year's Gift; or, Advice to a Daughter' (1688), in J.P. Kenyon, ed., Hali/ax: Complete Works (Harmondsworth, 1969), p.288; W. Fleetwood, The Relative Duties of Parents and Children. Husbands and Wives. Masters and Servants (1705) (London, 3'd edition, 1722), p.181; W. Wilkes, A Letter of Genteel and Moral Advice to a Young Lady (1744) (Dublin, 3rd edition, 1751), p.131; The Spectator no.342 (2 April 1712), in The Spectator (1711-12.1724), ed. D.F. Bond, 5 Vols. (Oxford, 1965) III, p.272 Wilkes, A Letter of Genteel and Moral Advice, p.132 41 S. Richardson, A Collection of the Moral and Instructive Sentiments, Maxims. Cautions and Reflections Contained in the Histories of Pamela, Clarissa, and Sir Charles Grandison (London, 1755), p.288; F.
de Salignac de la Mothe Fenelon, Fenelon's Treatise on the Education of Daughters:
Translated from the French, and adapted to English Readers. with an Original Chapter 'On Religious Studies' (1707, first French edition, 1688) (Cheltenham, 1805), p.5 42 Perry, 'Colonizing the Breast', p.118-9 subverting the power relations that dominated most other areas of life. 43 Others, however, have adopted a position somewhere in between. They have argued that, whilst women's experiences of motherhood were productive of considerable pleasure, gratification, collective female identity and pride, they were enclosed within the structures of patriarchy. Thus, mothers performed and supervised the vast majority of everyday tasks whilst husbands and male medics oversaw the general childrearing process and retained decision-making authority in larger issues. 44 An aspect of this new literature of particular relevance to the increasing artistic interest in and sentimentalisation of motherhood was the popularity of carefully constructed and described scenes of mothers nursing and caring for their children, textual parallels to the pictorial vistas by artists such as Romney, Reynolds and Wright of Derby described above. These domestic prospects are sometimes constructed from the viewpoint of the author. In Sermons to Young Ladies, the Reverend Fordyce imagines himself beholding his young reader "casting...fond maternal regards round and round through the pretty smiling circle" and conceives of his regard as a substitute for the approving gaze of her husband, necessarily absent in his dealings with the public world. 45 In other books, the prospect is constructed as if viewed directly by the reader him or herself. For example, Hugh Smith invites his audience to "behold" and A. Wilson, 'The Ceremony of Childbirth and its Interpretation', in Fildes, ed., Women as Mothers, pp.68-107. Although Wilson is here talking about the seventeenth century, he asserts that, despite male medical intervention in the eighteenth, many of these aspects of the childbirth ritual continued into the 1800s (p.83).
Crawford, 'The Construction and Experience of Maternity', especially pp.5-6, 27-29; P.
to reflect upon a woman engaged in the virtuous act of breastfeeding. 46 Most frequently, however, such scenes are envisaged through the eyes of an adoring and proud pater familias. Charles Jenner, in The Placid Man: or, Memoirs of Sir Charles Beville, describes a woman "sitting in the most engaging of all attitudes playing with her child," her husband enjoying the "smile of endearment" that reveals the virtue of his spouse's mind. 47 More extreme are examples from Samuel Richardson's Sir Charles Grandison and Clara Reeve's The Two Mentors in which male characters are prompted by their wife's suckling to throw themselves to the floor, the better to proffer adulation. 48 These literary images are, through their highly optical nature, comparable to the pictorial images under discussion. Indeed, occasionally the two are explicitly related and the painting of the worthy mother is translated into written description.
One newspaper in 1775 carried a poem under the heading: "'To Mr mCKEY, on seeing his Picture of Mr RUSPINI and FAMILY, at the Exhibition of the Royal Academy' by PATER FAMILIAS." It follows the standard conventions, describing a mother who "hangs o'er her sleeping charge in soft suspence" with an adoring husband in close attendance. The strong emphasis on the admiring gaze of the father, conveying evidence of "connubial love", is particularly apparent. PATER FAMILIAS H. Smith, Letters to Married Women on Nursing and the Management of Children (1767) (London, 6th edition, 1792). p.138 C. Jenner. The Placid Man; or Memoirs of Sir Charles Beville 2 Vols. (London. 1770). II.
p.46. Thanks to Michael Rosenthal for this quote.