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American Paintings and Sculpture
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Photo Credit: Christopher Gardner
Photo credit: Christopher Gardner
PrevNext2 of 2
Photo Credit: Christopher Gardner
Photo credit: Christopher Gardner
Artist: Unknown

Maternal Allegory

ca. 1795

Watercolor and chopped hair on ivory

1 5/16 × 3/4 in. (3.3 × 1.9 cm)
Yale University Art Gallery

The doting relationship between mother and children in this allegorical miniature reflects their respective positions in the modern, child-centered family that emerged in the late eighteenth century. The earnest mood and the mother’s lecturing of the older boy convey the contemporary belief that lessons children learned at their mothers’ knees were the building blocks of early American society. The new perception of children as innocent and inherently good is reflected in the composition, in which the placement of the baby on the mother’s lap and the proximity of the standing child are reminiscent of depictions of the infant Jesus and Virgin Mary attended by a young John the Baptist. In late eighteenth-century America, the pervasive elevation of the child contributed to an expanded social role for women, whose responsibility for the improvement of the young introduced a new reverence for motherhood as a contribution to the nation.

Made in United States
Not on view
18th century
Miniatures - Jewelry
Note: This electronic record was created from historic documentation that does not necessarily reflect the Yale University Art Gallery’s complete or current knowledge about the object. Review and updating of such records is ongoing.