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Saturday, February 21, 2015

Self-Portrait of an Era: 1. Children


A detail from "Raphael's Bible" in the Logge Vaticane, showing Moses saved from the waters by the Pharaoh's daughter and her damsels. These frescoes tell many things about the Renaissance society rather than about the Holy Scriptures. In this case, the 16th century -- in Italy, at least -- experienced a widespread "Abandoned-Baby Boom," a phenomenon then usually referred to as gli innocenti, "the innocents." A vicious circle ensued, indeed: A lot of women used to leave their newborn babies nearby specially equipped hospitals; in response, the hospitals kept improving their services (providing and paying nurses, looking for job opportunities, etc.) for the sake of the foundlings; but this further encouraged poor or 'sinful' mothers to abandon their babies; and so on. Many of those children would not survive. Perhaps not by chance, the general structure of the painting here above recalls Giotto's Lamentation over the Dead Christ.

The historical data about foundlings in the Renaissance have been kindly supplied by an expert, Prof. Luigi Tittarelli, University of Perugia, Italy.