Some artworks defy the passing of long ages not only as physical objects but also as ideas and images that transcend trends and tastes. One that captured my imagination long ago and has never grown dull or fallen from my affections is a carved stone portrait of a child, created in the fifteenth century by a sculptor mellifluously named Desiderio da Settignano (de Bartolomeo di Francesco detto Ferro). My computer wishes that I would change the unknown word “Desiderio” to “Desire,” and indeed, it is as though the artist had infused the marble of his sculpture with such mystical attraction, a heightened, time-proof version of the natural affection for a child’s inner beauty that can surpass the strength of his individual name or origins or place in time.
In recognition of both that species-perpetuating endearment and the accomplishment of the artist in capturing it, I wrote a pair of dedicated meditations.
This particular sculpture has always struck me as disarmingly unaffected, somehow, not quite as mini-adult or mawkish as many child artworks often are, so I find it compelling.
Despite your lovely words, there is something about the sculptures of children that I find a little creepy. Sculptures of people, with their blank eyes, are unsettling to me, but children much more so. I’ve been trawling my brain for what movie or memory or image would trigger such a feeling, but to no avail. Still, I like the writing that accompanied the pictures.
It doesn’t always have to be specific to affect me in particular ways. I do know what you’re saying; for me, some child portraits have the same artificial cute-and-sweet-wannabe quality that repulses me in most clowns, where I feel I’m being forced to laugh at their faux gaiety and heavy-handed innocence act. But this one always had less of that edge for me—a sort of gently matter-of-fact simplicity about it that I find engaging in a different way. Don’t know why *that’s* true for *me*, either! 🙂
Reminded me of John Crowe Ransome “there was such speed in her little body”.
What a lovely, lovely phrase!
Yes, beautiful, captivating and disturbing too.
It’s easy for me to understand how people can go overboard with their idealization of children in art, but as a fond sister, cousin, auntie, neighbor, teacher, etc, I can also say that a half hour with the finest of them is generally enough reminder to me of what is less cute and charming about them (and why, among the many reasons, I’m not a fond mother as well). 😉 But among kid-based artworks, this remains one of my favorites (see my notes to others here). 🙂