In the Middle Ages, children usually were portrayed in art as miniature adults with no childish characteristics. In the 16C, images of children began to acquire a distinct childish appearance. From the 17C onwards, children were shown with toys & pets.
Before the 18C, children in portraits were usually dressed in the highest adult fashion appearing stiff & uncomfortable.
Many of these children seem to be posed on a flat dark stage made up of a patterned black & white floor, typical of domestic interiors in the Netherlands in this period. During the 1600s, a shift in philosophical & social attitudes toward children & the notion of 'childhood' began in Europe. Adults increasingly saw children as separate beings, innocent & in need of protection & training by the adults around them. Many of these portraits show the child in an interior, totally protected from the wild nature outside.
As the 17C progressed, artists increasingly portrayed children near windows showing nature and gardens beyond. Some actually began to paint children in natural settings or surrounded by natural objects. The children themselves draw the viewers' attention to nature, some point to a natural object, some carry baskets of fruit or flowers, others play with birds or pets.
prices went to astronomical levels - up to the equivalent of £1.3million per bulb.
These are early portraits of children in Boston. These paintings are remarkable; simply because they were was painted in 1670, just 50 years after the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock on the coast of Massachusetts. Here the artist has chosen to depict these children from Boston in a safe interior space defined simply by a black-and-white or monochromatic checkerboard floor sometimes with just a hint of decorative drapery in one of the upper corners.
Checkered floors were popular in colonial America, but these were probably not the traditional European tiled floors The checkerboad pattern might have been painted directly on the wooden floorboards or on a canvas floor cloth. Such attention to floor patterns would have appreared primarily in the homes of the affluent. As late as 1800, Lyman Beecher noted that his wife introduced the 1st painted floor cloth (which she made herself) to East Hampton, Long Island, where all the other houses "had sanded floors, some of them worn through." Beecher was referring to the practice of spreading sand on floorboards which could be sweep & refreshed as needed.
Like the paintings of children in 17C Europe, the artist depicts these children looking far older than their years, but their exact ages are inscribed next to their heads. Here the children are little adults, unusually proportioned with stiff, erect postures. Worried that children might become wild or immoral if not disciplined by strict religious & cultural rules, the Puritans of early New England assigned as many household & garden duties as possible to children & filled the children's remaining time with religious & educational activities.
The clothing in these American portraits is very simple. Early Massachusetts law stated that only the very wealthy could display extravagant clothing, which could only be worn by members of households whose income exceeded 200 pounds per year. Yet even the well-to-do, influenced by New England's predominantly Puritan & Quaker ethics of the time, often frowned upon overly fancy clothes as vain & impious. It was common for wealthy people to wear simple clothes made of expensive fabric.
If you are interested in the role of children in 17C Europe & its evolution, you might wish to read one of these books.
Ariès, Philippe. 1962. Centuries of Childhood: A Social History of Family Life. Trans. Robert Baldick. New York: Knopf.
Badinter, Elisabeth. 1981. The Myth of Motherhood: An Historical View of the Maternal Instinct. London: Souvenir.
Boswell, John. 1988. The Kindness of Strangers: The Abandonment of Children in Western Europe from Late Antiquity to the Renaissance. New York: Pantheon.
Cunningham, Hugh. 1995. Children and Childhood in Western Society since 1500. London: Longman.
Dekker, Jeroen, Leendert Groenendijk, and Johan Verberckmoes. 2000. "Proudly Raising Vulnerable Youngsters: The Scope for Education in the Netherlands." in Pride and Joy: Children's Portraits in the Netherlands 1500−1700, ed. Jan Baptist Bedaux and Rudi Ekkart. Ghent, Belgium: Ludion.
Griffiths, Paul. 1996. Youth and Authority: Formative Experiences in England 1560−1640. Oxford, UK: Clarendon.
Haas, Louis. 1998. The Renaissance Man and His Children: Childbirth and Early Childhood in Florence, 1300−1600. New York: St. Martin's.
Heywood, Colin. 2001. A History of Childhood: Children and Childhood in the West from Medieval to Modern Times. Cambridge, UK: Polity.
Krausman Ben-Amos, Ilana. 1994. Adolescence and Youth in Early Modern England. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Macfarlane, Alan. 1986. Marriage and Love in England. Modes of Reproduction 1300−1840. London: B. Blackwell.
Mause, Lloyd de. 1974. The History of Childhood. New York: Psycho-history Press.
Pollock, Linda. 1983. Forgotten Children: Parent-Child Relations from 1500 to 1900. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Pollock, Linda. 1987. A Lasting Relationship: Parents and their Children over Three Centuries. London: Fourth Estate.
Roberts, Benjamin B. 1996. "Fatherhood in Eighteenth-Century Holland: The Van der Muelen Brothers." in Journal of Family History 21: 218–228.
Roberts, Benjamin B. 1998. Through the Keyhole. Dutch Child-rearing Practices in the 17th and 18th Century: Three Urban Elite Families. Hilversum, Netherlands: Verloren.
Schama, Simon. 1987. The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age. New York: Knopf.
Shahar, Shulamith. 1990. Childhood in the Middle Ages. Trans. Chaya Galai. London: Routledge.
Shorter, Edward. 1975. The Making of the Modern Family. New York: Basic Books.
Stone, Lawrence. 1977. The Family, Sex, and Marriage in England 1500−1800. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.ed. Jan Baptist Bedaux and Rudi Ekkart. Ghent, Belgium: Ludion.