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Panel Painting Child with a rattle

Object number
Production date
c. 1492
Production place
Oil Paint
Oil On Panel
height: 344mm
width: 243mm
Burlington House - (on display)
    The child in the Society’s painting is dressed in an embroidered skirt and bodice on top of which sits a delicate apron gathered at the waist. (Skirts and aprons were generally worn by small children of both sexes in affluent European households in the mid-sixteenth century, following the introduction of the frock for infants, and until the early twentieth century, boys were not breeched, or dressed in trousers before the age of about four.)

    The identity of both subject and artist are unknown, but judging by the elaborate and costly gown, the child in the Society’s painting was probably a member of the aristocracy, perhaps of royalty. The child in the Society’s panel also holds a long-handled rattle on a chain, with portraits of very young royal and noble children at this period frequently including a plaything, often a rattle of some kind.

    The appearance of rattles in European children’s portraits from the sixteenth century coincides with archaeological evidence for them in England, together with the first recorded use of the word ‘rattle,’ in a schoolbook of 1519. Rattles made of precious materials were often heirlooms, handed down from one generation to the next. They also had a talismanic function, protecting the child by warding off evil spirits with their noise. The durable teething aid that was often attached to one end – often a piece of red coral or white animal bone, or a tooth as in the Society’s painting – was also thought to possess the beneficial prophylactic properties believed to be present in blood and bone.

    It has recently been suggested that the Society’s panel is the work of an unnamed sixteenth-century Flemish artist referred to as ‘The Monogrammist G.E.C.’ from the initials on one of a pair of portraits in the Hallwylska Museum, Stockholm, painted by this artist. The basis for this attribution is the perceived similarity between the Society’s painting and a portrait called Christina of Denmark (1521–90) ascribed to this same painter. The attribution is convincing, given that the Society’s painting of the child and the female portrait compare closely in a number or respects. The treatment of the background and of physiognomy – notably the eyes and hairline – is comparable, as is the palette and the positioning of the figure on the panel. The depiction of such details as the child’s cap frill and the woman’s ruff is also similar, as is the way in which gauze fabric is represented in both paintings.

    A sheet of paper attached to the reverse of the panel bears a handwritten text in French, in what appears to be an eighteenth-century script, that suggests the subject of the portrait is Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy (1433–77). However, tree-ring analysis suggests the portrait was painted some time after 1491.