Motherhood

Lecturer Jean Sorabella finds inspiration in idealized depictions of mothers.

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She makes it look so easy, and she's never punishing the Christ child, or giving him a time-out.

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  • Jean Sorabella
    1280852
  • Krishna's Foster-Mother Yashoda with the Infant Krishna  |  Chola period, early 12th century  |  India (Tamil Nadu)  |  Copper alloy  |  Purchase, Lita Annenberg Hazen Charitable Trust Gift, in honor of Cynthia Polsky and Leon Bernard Polsky, 1982 (1982.220.8)
    7831024
  • The Dance Class  |  1874  |  Edgar Degas (French)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Bequest of Mrs. Harry Payne Bingham, 1986 (1987.47.1)
    9441024
  • The Dance Class  |  1874  |  Edgar Degas (French)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Bequest of Mrs. Harry Payne Bingham, 1986 (1987.47.1)
    10891024
  • Charity  |  Guido Reni (Italian, Bolognese)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, 1974 (1974.348)

    7841024
  • Madonna and Child  |  probably late 1480s  |  Giovanni Bellini (Italian, Venetian)  |  Oil on wood  |  Rogers Fund, 1908 (08.183.1)
    8771024
  • Madonna and Child  |  ca. 1510  |  Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) (Italian)  |  Oil on wood  |  The Jules Bache Collection, 1949 (49.7.15)
    12801022
  • Mother and Child (The Oval Mirror)  |  ca. 1889  |  Mary Cassatt (American)  |  Oil on canvas  |  H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (29.100.47)
    8271024
  • Midnight: The Hours of the Rat; Mother and Sleepy Child  |  Edo period, ca. 1790  |  Kitagawa Utamaro (Japanese)  |  Polychrome woodblock print  |  Rogers Fund, 1922 (JP1278)
    7401024
  • Louise Brongniart (1772–1845)  |  18th century (after a model of 1777)  |  After Jean-Antoine Houdon (French)  |  French (Paris)  |  Marble  |  Bequest of Benjamin Altman, 1913 (14.40.670)
    7891024
  • Grave stele of a little girl  |  ca. 450–440 b.c.  |  Greek  |  Parian marble  |  Fletcher Fund, 1927 (27.45)
    5831024
  • Two Princesses  |  New Kingdom, Dynasty 18, reign of Akhenaten, ca. 1349–1336 b.c.  |  Egyptian  |  Limestone with remains of paint  |  Gift of Norbert Schimmel, 1985 (1985.328.6)
    1280936
  • Statue of Eros sleeping  |  3rd century b.c.–early 1st century a.d.; Hellenistic or Augustan  |  Greek or Roman  |  Bronze  |  Rogers Fund, 1943 (43.11.4)
    1280947
  • Statue of Eros sleeping  |  3rd century b.c.–early 1st century a.d.; Hellenistic or Augustan  |  Greek or Roman  |  Bronze  |  Rogers Fund, 1943 (43.11.4)
    1280960
  • Statue of Eros sleeping  |  3rd century b.c.–early 1st century a.d.; Hellenistic or Augustan  |  Greek or Roman  |  Bronze  |  Rogers Fund, 1943 (43.11.4)
    1280947
  • Venus and Adonis  |  mid- or late 1630s  |  Peter Paul Rubens (Flemish)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Gift of Harry Payne Bingham, 1937 (37.162)
    12661024
  • Venus and Adonis  |  mid- or late 1630s  |  Peter Paul Rubens (Flemish)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Gift of Harry Payne Bingham, 1937 (37.162)
    12801021
  • Hagar in the Wilderness  |  1835  |  Camille Corot (French)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Rogers Fund, 1938 (38.64)

    1280938
  • Hagar in the Wilderness  |  1835  |  Camille Corot (French)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Rogers Fund, 1938 (38.64)

    1280785
  • Christ Taking Leave of His Mother  |  possibly the right wing of a diptych, ca. 1500  |  Gerard David (Netherlandish)   |  Oil on wood  |  Bequest of Benjamin Altman, 1913 (14.40.636)
    8671024
  • Andromache and Astyanax  |  1814–24  |  Pierre-Paul Prud'hon (French)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Bequest of Collis P. Huntington, 1900 (25.110.14)
    1280990
  • A Mother's Pearls (Portraits of the Artist's Children)  |  1841  |  Thomas Seir Cummings (American)  |  Watercolor on ivory  |  L. 17 1/2 in. (44.5 cm)  |  Gift of Mrs. Richard B. Hartshorne and Miss Fanny S. Cummings (through Miss Estelle Hartshorne), 1928 (28.148.1)
    9061024
  • Virgin and Child  |  ca. 1455–60  |  Dieric Bouts (Netherlandish)  |  Oil on wood  |  Theodore M. Davis Collection, Bequest of Theodore M. Davis, 1915 (30.95.280)
    7721024
  • Jean Sorabella
    1280852
  • I'm Jean Sorabella, and I'm a lecturer here at the Museum. I'm going to talk about motherhood

  • a subject very dear to my heart. It's a definition of a major part of my time right now.

  • As I have returned to some of the objects that I liked best as a child, like the Degas dancers, I see that in addition to all of the dancers there are, concealed in the back, these

  • mothers. So the mothers were sitting there almost like anticipations of the future that I've only really come to discover now.

  • In art, when you depict a mother, it seems she'd better be doing her job well, and she's almost an ideal for mothers.

  • She makes it look so easy, and she's never, you know, punishing the Christ child, or giving him a time-out, or you know, off exasperated in the corner. And in a way it's really nice to see

  • those images, because they give me, anyway, this chance to be still with the things that are the most peculiar to motherhood. And then

  • when I had my little son, in particular, I thought about these pictures all the time as though I were, in a way, living them in a way I had never imagined that I might.

  • Only from time to time do I see an image where it really seems to suggest that a mother has any work to do. And I think when I come to the museum

  • it's lovely to see all of these children that are in a way cared for by themselves. You know, little, little children who are without

  • runny noses, without whining, without trying to keep their bedtimes far away, where you have

  • two siblings relating to one another so harmoniously. I have, at the moment, two children. If I could see them together like that every day I would feel so happy, and the times when I actually do see them looking like that are sadly few at the moment.

  • One image I remember looking at a lot before I had any children is the Sleeping Eros. And something I loved about it was how lifelike a portrayal of a sleeping child it is. I'm sorry to report that my daughter would never go to sleep on a rock

  • and my son would never sleep on a rock. They need their blankey, they need their crib. So, in a way, I feel like this statue is a weird kind of wish fulfillment. On the other side, though

  • it's Eros. It's not just a baby. And the genius of the Greeks in imagining desire as a baby shows very clearly where desire leads.

  • One of my favorite mothers is the wonderful Venus. And I think that there are lots of Venuses that don't show any trace of that physical aspect of motherhood, but this Venus does and I love that about her.

  • In all of her voluptuous perfection, she is in no way a maidenly figure, and she's here nude. And Rubens is so good at making the mother look desirable.

  • I just reread the biblical story of Ishmael, and it is so incredibly moving. I guess Hagar, the mother, and her only, and it seems very beloved son, Ishmael, have been chased out into the wilderness.

  • And in the biblical story, Hagar places him under a bush, she goes a long way away, she's run out of water and thinks he's going to die and says, "I don't want to see this child die." And that's every mother's worst nightmare, really

  • that your child won't survive you, or that your child will suffer. And when I put myself into these scenarios and try to imagine

  • what these mothers must be suffering, then all the little concerns of everyday motherhood really pale.

  • To me, motherhood is a tremendous chance to have a wonderful relationship with one's child

  • actually to produce children, to shape children for the future. That's a huge responsibility and a great pleasure

  • on the other hand, terribly scary.

  • 1982.220.8
    Krishna's Foster-Mother Yashoda with the Infant Krishna, Chola period, early 12th century, India (Tamil Nadu), Copper alloy Purchase, Lita Annenberg Hazen Charitable Trust Gift, in honor of Cynthia Polsky and Leon Bernard Polsky, 1982 (1982.220.8)
  • 1987.47.1
    The Dance Class, 1874, Edgar Degas (French), Oil on canvas Bequest of Mrs. Harry Payne Bingham, 1986 (1987.47.1)
  • 1974.348

    Charity, Guido Reni (Italian, Bolognese), Oil on canvas Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, 1974 (1974.348)

  • 08.183.1
    Madonna and Child, probably late 1480s, Giovanni Bellini (Italian, Venetian), Oil on wood Rogers Fund, 1908 (08.183.1)
  • 49.7.15
    Madonna and Child, ca. 1510, Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) (Italian), Oil on wood The Jules Bache Collection, 1949 (49.7.15)
  • 29.100.47
    Mother and Child (The Oval Mirror), ca. 1889, Mary Cassatt (American), Oil on canvas H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (29.100.47)
  • JP1278
    Midnight: The Hours of the Rat; Mother and Sleepy Child, Edo period, ca. 1790, Kitagawa Utamaro (Japanese), Polychrome woodblock print Rogers Fund, 1922 (JP1278)
  • 14.40.670
    Louise Brongniart (1772–1845), 18th century (after a model of 1777), After Jean-Antoine Houdon (French), French (Paris), Marble Bequest of Benjamin Altman, 1913 (14.40.670)
  • 27.45
    Grave stele of a little girl, ca. 450–440 b.c., Greek, Parian marble Fletcher Fund, 1927 (27.45)
  • 1985.328.6
    Two Princesses, New Kingdom, Dynasty 18, reign of Akhenaten, ca. 1349–1336 b.c., Egyptian, Limestone with remains of paint Gift of Norbert Schimmel, 1985 (1985.328.6)
  • 43.11.4
    Statue of Eros sleeping, 3rd century b.c.–early 1st century a.d.; Hellenistic or Augustan, Greek or Roman, Bronze Rogers Fund, 1943 (43.11.4)
  • 37.162
    Venus and Adonis, mid- or late 1630s, Peter Paul Rubens (Flemish), Oil on canvas Gift of Harry Payne Bingham, 1937 (37.162)
  • 38.64

    Hagar in the Wilderness, 1835, Camille Corot (French), Oil on canvas Rogers Fund, 1938 (38.64)

  • 14.40.636
    Christ Taking Leave of His Mother, possibly the right wing of a diptych, ca. 1500, Gerard David (Netherlandish) , Oil on wood Bequest of Benjamin Altman, 1913 (14.40.636)
  • 25.110.14
    Andromache and Astyanax, 1814–24, Pierre-Paul Prud'hon (French), Oil on canvas Bequest of Collis P. Huntington, 1900 (25.110.14)
  • 28.148.1_av1
    A Mother's Pearls (Portraits of the Artist's Children), 1841, Thomas Seir Cummings (American), Watercolor on ivory L. 17 1/2 in. (44.5 cm) Gift of Mrs. Richard B. Hartshorne and Miss Fanny S. Cummings (through Miss Estelle Hartshorne), 1928 (28.148.1)
  • 30.95.280
    Virgin and Child, ca. 1455–60, Dieric Bouts (Netherlandish), Oil on wood Theodore M. Davis Collection, Bequest of Theodore M. Davis, 1915 (30.95.280)
  • Krishna's Foster-Mother Yashoda with the Infant Krishna, Chola period, early 12th century, India (Tamil Nadu), Copper alloy Purchase, Lita Annenberg Hazen Charitable Trust Gift, in honor of Cynthia Polsky and Leon Bernard Polsky, 1982 (1982.220.8)
    The Dance Class, 1874, Edgar Degas (French), Oil on canvas Bequest of Mrs. Harry Payne Bingham, 1986 (1987.47.1)

    Charity, Guido Reni (Italian, Bolognese), Oil on canvas Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, 1974 (1974.348)

    Madonna and Child, probably late 1480s, Giovanni Bellini (Italian, Venetian), Oil on wood Rogers Fund, 1908 (08.183.1)
    Madonna and Child, ca. 1510, Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) (Italian), Oil on wood The Jules Bache Collection, 1949 (49.7.15)
    Mother and Child (The Oval Mirror), ca. 1889, Mary Cassatt (American), Oil on canvas H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (29.100.47)
    Midnight: The Hours of the Rat; Mother and Sleepy Child, Edo period, ca. 1790, Kitagawa Utamaro (Japanese), Polychrome woodblock print Rogers Fund, 1922 (JP1278)
    Louise Brongniart (1772–1845), 18th century (after a model of 1777), After Jean-Antoine Houdon (French), French (Paris), Marble Bequest of Benjamin Altman, 1913 (14.40.670)
    Grave stele of a little girl, ca. 450–440 b.c., Greek, Parian marble Fletcher Fund, 1927 (27.45)
    Two Princesses, New Kingdom, Dynasty 18, reign of Akhenaten, ca. 1349–1336 b.c., Egyptian, Limestone with remains of paint Gift of Norbert Schimmel, 1985 (1985.328.6)
    Statue of Eros sleeping, 3rd century b.c.–early 1st century a.d.; Hellenistic or Augustan, Greek or Roman, Bronze Rogers Fund, 1943 (43.11.4)
    Venus and Adonis, mid- or late 1630s, Peter Paul Rubens (Flemish), Oil on canvas Gift of Harry Payne Bingham, 1937 (37.162)

    Hagar in the Wilderness, 1835, Camille Corot (French), Oil on canvas Rogers Fund, 1938 (38.64)

    Christ Taking Leave of His Mother, possibly the right wing of a diptych, ca. 1500, Gerard David (Netherlandish) , Oil on wood Bequest of Benjamin Altman, 1913 (14.40.636)
    Andromache and Astyanax, 1814–24, Pierre-Paul Prud'hon (French), Oil on canvas Bequest of Collis P. Huntington, 1900 (25.110.14)
    A Mother's Pearls (Portraits of the Artist's Children), 1841, Thomas Seir Cummings (American), Watercolor on ivory L. 17 1/2 in. (44.5 cm) Gift of Mrs. Richard B. Hartshorne and Miss Fanny S. Cummings (through Miss Estelle Hartshorne), 1928 (28.148.1)
    Virgin and Child, ca. 1455–60, Dieric Bouts (Netherlandish), Oil on wood Theodore M. Davis Collection, Bequest of Theodore M. Davis, 1915 (30.95.280)
    8000–2000 B.C.
    2000–1000 B.C.
    1000 B.C.–1 A.D.
    1–500 A.D.
    500–1000 A.D.
    1000–1400 A.D.
    1400–1600 A.D.
    1600–1800 A.D.
    1800–1900 A.D.
    1900–Present

    Works of art in order of appearance

    Last Updated: August 19, 2013. Not all works of art in the Museum's collection may be on view on a particular day. For the most accurate location information, please check this page on the day of your visit.

    Krishna's Foster-Mother Yashoda with the Infant Krishna
    Chola period, early 12th century
    India (Tamil Nadu)
    Copper alloy
    Purchase, Lita Annenberg Hazen Charitable Trust Gift, in honor of Cynthia Polsky and Leon Bernard Polsky, 1982 (1982.220.8)
    On view: Gallery 240
    Asian ArtSecond Floor
    The Dance Class
    1874
    Edgar Degas (French)
    Oil on canvas
    Bequest of Mrs. Harry Payne Bingham, 1986 (1987.47.1)
    On view: Gallery 815
    European PaintingsSecond Floor

    Charity
    Guido Reni (Italian, Bolognese)
    Oil on canvas
    Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, 1974 (1974.348)

    On view: Gallery 601
    European PaintingsSecond Floor
    Madonna and Child
    probably late 1480s
    Giovanni Bellini (Italian, Venetian)
    Oil on wood
    Rogers Fund, 1908 (08.183.1)
    On view: Gallery 606
    European PaintingsSecond Floor
    Madonna and Child
    ca. 1510
    Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) (Italian)
    Oil on wood
    The Jules Bache Collection, 1949 (49.7.15)
    On view: Gallery 607
    European PaintingsSecond Floor
    Mother and Child (The Oval Mirror)
    ca. 1889
    Mary Cassatt (American)
    Oil on canvas
    H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (29.100.47)
    On view: Gallery 768
    American Paintings and SculptureFirst and Second Floors
    Midnight: The Hours of the Rat; Mother and Sleepy Child
    Edo period, ca. 1790
    Kitagawa Utamaro (Japanese)
    Polychrome woodblock print
    Rogers Fund, 1922 (JP1278)
    Not on view
    Asian ArtSecond Floor
    Louise Brongniart (1772–1845)
    18th century (after a model of 1777)
    After Jean-Antoine Houdon (French)
    French (Paris)
    Marble
    Bequest of Benjamin Altman, 1913 (14.40.670)
    On view: Gallery 552
    European Sculpture and Decorative ArtsFirst Floor
    Grave stele of a little girl
    ca. 450–440 b.c.
    Greek
    Parian marble
    Fletcher Fund, 1927 (27.45)
    On view: Gallery 156
    Greek and Roman ArtFirst Floor and Mezzanine
    Two Princesses
    New Kingdom, Dynasty 18, reign of Akhenaten, ca. 1349–1336 b.c.
    Egyptian
    Limestone with remains of paint
    Gift of Norbert Schimmel, 1985 (1985.328.6)
    On view: Gallery 121
    Egyptian ArtFirst Floor
    Statue of Eros sleeping
    3rd century b.c.–early 1st century a.d.; Hellenistic or Augustan
    Greek or Roman
    Bronze
    Rogers Fund, 1943 (43.11.4)
    On view: Gallery 164
    Greek and Roman ArtFirst Floor and Mezzanine
    Venus and Adonis
    mid- or late 1630s
    Peter Paul Rubens (Flemish)
    Oil on canvas
    Gift of Harry Payne Bingham, 1937 (37.162)
    On view: Gallery 628
    European PaintingsSecond Floor

    Hagar in the Wilderness
    1835
    Camille Corot (French)
    Oil on canvas
    Rogers Fund, 1938 (38.64)

    On view: Gallery 803
    European PaintingsSecond Floor
    Christ Taking Leave of His Mother
    possibly the right wing of a diptych, ca. 1500
    Gerard David (Netherlandish)
    Oil on wood
    Bequest of Benjamin Altman, 1913 (14.40.636)
    On view: Gallery 640
    European PaintingsSecond Floor
    Andromache and Astyanax
    1814–24
    Pierre-Paul Prud'hon (French)
    Oil on canvas
    Bequest of Collis P. Huntington, 1900 (25.110.14)
    On view: Gallery 614
    European PaintingsSecond Floor
    A Mother's Pearls (Portraits of the Artist's Children)
    1841
    Thomas Seir Cummings (American)
    Watercolor on ivory
    L. 17 1/2 in. (44.5 cm)
    Gift of Mrs. Richard B. Hartshorne and Miss Fanny S. Cummings (through Miss Estelle Hartshorne), 1928 (28.148.1)
    Not on view
    American Paintings and SculptureFirst and Second Floors
    Virgin and Child
    ca. 1455–60
    Dieric Bouts (Netherlandish)
    Oil on wood
    Theodore M. Davis Collection, Bequest of Theodore M. Davis, 1915 (30.95.280)
    On view: Gallery 641
    European PaintingsSecond Floor

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