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Tots to teenagers: representations of childhood in Western Art

Two-day art history and theory course

Short course

  • 16 February 2019, 10am — 5pm
  • 17 February 2019, 10am — 5pm
This event has now ended

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Johannes Cornelisz. Verspronck, Portrait of a Girl Dressed in Blue, 1641.

Oil on canvas. h 82cm × w 66.5cm. Public Domain Dedication.

This unconventional art history course led by expert Sophie Oosterwijk offers unique insights into the history of childhood through its presentation in Western art.

Is childhood a natural phenomenon or a definition invented by society? This question is still fiercely debated among historians. In our modern society we have different ways of defining a child – be it the age of legal responsibility, of consent, the right to vote or to drink alcohol. Depictions of childhood in art have also affected its many definitions, whether portraits, genre scenes, book illustrations, commemorative art or other objects of material culture.

Researchers into the history of childhood draw on a wide variety of sources in order to reconstruct and understand the past. While relying heavily on documents, they also draw on visual sources, especially art and material culture from toys to tombstones. Combining and comparing information from these various sources lead us towards a more comprehensive picture of childhood throughout history.

This course focuses on the presentation of childhood in art, which can tell us things that a written document might not. A deathbed portrait, for example, can illustrate parental grief over a deceased child, and challenge the view that, when child mortality was high, people had many children expecting just a few to survive.

Participants will consider how modern views of childhood may cloud our judgement of representations of the past. By putting the art of childhood back into its historical context, surprises emerge. We easily fall into the trap of misreading images of childhood because of our inevitable emotional response: an image of a swaddled infant might evoke pity or horror in a modern viewer, while a formal portrait of a very young child in court dress might make us think of ‘miniature adults’.

In this course participants will be offered a multidisciplinary approach, looking at and debating works of art alongside other forms of material culture and historical evidence to obtain a better understanding of childhood in the past – and perhaps also the present.

● Fully booked

● Cancelled

  • 16 February 2019, 10am — 5pm
  • 17 February 2019, 10am — 5pm

Wolfson British Academy Room, 6 Burlington Gardens, Royal Academy of Arts

£420. Includes all materials, light refreshments at the beginning of each day and wine reception at the end of day one.