Why Babies in Medieval Paintings Look So Old and Scary

Have you ever been wandering around an art museum and found yourself chuckling at the angry middle-aged-man heads on Medieval babies? "Wow, those Medieval artists were terrible at painting children!" You probably thought to yourself. But the joke is actually on you: These artists wanted their paintings to feature mini versions of that guy from one cubicle over.

Vox spoke to Matthew Averett, an art history professor at Creighton University who edited the anthology The Early Modern Child in Art and History, to find out why this trend towards intentionally old-looking babies abounded during the Middle Ages—and what caused the shift during the Renaissance toward the chubby-cheeked cherubic faces we recognize as babies.

The reasoning, like all things artistic in the Middle Ages, has to do with Jesus. Back then, the Church commissioned most of the portraits of babies and children. And they didn't want just any old baby—they wanted the baby Jesus (or other biblical kids). Medieval artists subscribed to the concept of homunculus, which literally means "little man," or the belief that Jesus was born "perfectly formed and unchanged," Averett said.

This homuncular, adult-looking baby Jesus became the standard for all children, an exemplar that stuck in the Middle Ages because artists at the time had, according to Averett, a "lack of interest in naturalism, and they veered more toward expressionistic conventions."

During the Renaissance, however, non-religious art flourished, and wealthy patrons wanted portraits of their darling children that were cute—not Benjamin Button-esque. Add a greater attention to realism, and babies began shifting away from the hyper-stylized homuncular.

Rotting Fruit—Made of Glass—Is the Focus of a New Exhibition at Harvard

Strawberry with Penicillium sp. mold, Rudolf Blaschka, 1929
Strawberry with Penicillium sp. mold, Rudolf Blaschka, 1929
Jennifer Berglund © 2019 President and Fellows of Harvard College

A fuzzy blue strawberry, a pear mottled with unseemly blotches—rotting fruit is not normally thought of as beautiful. But just like the trees, flowers, and more attractive crops often featured in artwork, fruits dying on the branch are a normal part of nature. By spotlighting the summer fruits that never make it to market, the Harvard Museum of Natural History is calling on people to examine them in a different light.

The new exhibit, “Fruits in Decay," consists of astonishingly realistic glass models of apricots, plums, and other fruits in various stages of rot. Each intricate sculpture showcases the effects of a real-life agricultural disease. One branch is depicted with peach leaf curl, a disease caused by the fungus Taphrina deformans, and a pear bears the telltale dark spots of pear scab. There are more than 20 glass items on display.


Pear with pear scab, Rudolf Blaschka, 1929
Jennifer Berglund © 2019 President and Fellows of Harvard College

“Fruits in Decay" is the new focus of the Harvard Museum's famous "Glass Flowers" gallery. Every piece in the glass collection was crafted by either Leopold or Rudolf Blaschka, a Czech father-son team descended from a line of glassblowers stretching back to the 15th century. Active in the 19th and 20th centuries, they were known for creating realistic glass models of scientific specimens, 4300 of which are housed at Harvard today. The rotten fruit models were sculpted by Rudolf Blaschka between the years 1924 and 1932, at the end of his career.

“Rudolf Blaschka’s last work centered on the creation of these models of diseased fruits," Donald H. Pfister, curator of the Farlow Library and Herbarium of Cryptogamic Botany, said in statement. "They are the culmination of his lifelong attention to accuracy and innovation. They illustrate the effects of fungi as agents of disease in plants and point to their importance in agricultural systems.”

“Fruits in Decay" is open now at the Harvard Museum of Natural History and will be on view through March 1, 2020.

Branch with peach leaf curl, Model 798, Rudolf Blaschka, 1929
Branch with peach leaf curl, Rudolf Blaschka, 1929
Jennifer Berglund © 2019 President and Fellows of Harvard College

Collection of Star Wars-Inspired Insect Art Is Coming to Los Angeles Gallery

Richard Wilkinson
Richard Wilkinson

The Star Wars universe is known for its larger-than-life spaceships, weapons, and characters. For his new gallery exhibition, "Arthropoda Iconicus," artist Richard Wilkinson decided to take a different approach. As Gizmodo reports, he has reimagined pieces of Star Wars iconography as new species of insects.

The creepy collection goes on display at the Hero Complex Gallery in Los Angeles on September 6. At first glance, the bugs look like specimens you'd find at a natural history museum. But pop culture connoisseurs will recognize that each critter is inspired by something from a movie, television show, video game, comic book, or even a popular product or brand.

The Star Wars-inspired insects are the stars of the show. R2-D2 has been reinterpreted as a beetle dubbed Robodoubus deoduoubus, and Yoda appears as Dominos magister. C-3PO, a stormtrooper, and Darth Vader are all represented, too.

R2-D2 beetle.
Richard Wilkinson

C3PO bug.
Richard Wilkinson

Yoda insect.
Richard Wilkinson

Stormtrooper as bug.
Richard Wilkinson

Book of Star Wars icons as bugs.
Richard Wilkinson

Many of the works on display are taken from Wilkinson's book Arthropoda Iconicus Volume I: Insects From A Far Away Galaxy. All 148 pieces in the exhibit will be available to purchase for $20 as 8-inch-by-10-inch prints when the show opens Friday. The art will also sold through Hero Complex's website starting at 11:00 a.m. PST on September 7.

[h/t Gizmodo]

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