The surprising history of “pregnancy portraits”

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tags: gender, art history, womens history, pregnancy, reproductive history

IT SEEMS A curious paradox. For centuries women could expect to spend a significant amount of their lives pregnant, producing broods that often numbered into the teens. Births would be conducted at home, attended by female friends and family, meaning that the joys and difficulties of labour were familiar. In Britain women who bore several infants to term were seen as beneficiaries of divine favour, as children were considered gifts “that cometh of the Lord”. Yet despite this social importance, and the frequent depictions of women throughout the history of art, there is a dearth of works showing expectant mothers. Why?

“It is really surprisingly late in the 20th century that you are starting to get images of women...as visibly pregnant,” says Karen Hearn, the curator of “Portraying Pregnancy: From Holbein to Social Media”, a new exhibition of mainly British art at the Foundling Museum in London, and the author of an accompanying book. Spanning 500 years, it is the first major show in Britain to explore how the pregnant body has been rendered—and more often concealed—in art.

Read entire article at The Economist

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