These Babies from Historic Art Will Haunt Your Dreams

Ashleigh Hibbins - Museum Professional

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The fine art of medieval and renaissance Europe can be dazzling, thought-provoking, and evocative – and full of the weirdest babies we’ve ever seen. From the sour-faced to the overly muscled to the weirdly proportioned, here are our favorite awkward and downright creepy babies that only a medieval mother could love.

The Morning After Baby

Madonna and Child (detail) by Carlo Crivelli, c. 1480, Victoria and Albert Museum.

This baby looks like it’s recovering from more than just a heavy night on the apples.

The Fitspo Baby

Have you already slacked off on your New Year’s Resolution to get in shape? You know it’s time to head to the gym when newborn babies have better abs and biceps than you.

Virgin and Child (detail) by Francesco Squarcione, c. 1460, Staatliche Museen.
Madonna and Child with Saint Anne (detail) by Masaccio and Masolino da Panicale c. 1424-5, Uffizi Gallery.
Nativity scene (detail) by the Master of Vyšší Brod, c. 1350, Národni Galerie.

The I’m Blue (Da Ba Di Da Ba Dy) Baby

We’re not even sure this is a baby. It may be a zombie or a messenger from outer space. Regardless, like the Fitspo Baby, this one’s got a pretty good six-pack.

Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saint Peter and Saint Paul (detail) by Domenico di Bartolo, c. 1430, National Gallery of Art.

The Sassy Middle-Aged Man Baby

There is no doubt in our minds that the babies in these three paintings are actually 45-year-old men in middle management with too much time on their hands.

Madonna and Child (detail) by Maso di Banco, c. 1335, Gemäldegalerie.
Madonna and Child with Two Angels and a Donor (detail) by Giovanni di Paolo di Grazia, c. 1445, The Met.
Madonna and Child (Salting Madonna) by Antonello da Messina, c.1460.

The Alien Baby

We’re 100% sure this is what inspired the sci-fi horror film series, Alien. We’re also 100% sure this artist has never seen a pregnant woman or taken an anatomy class.

Triptych of the Madonna della Misericordia (detail) by Jacobello del Fiore, 1415, Gallerie dell’Accademia.

The Weird Bio Class Baby

This nightmare-inducing allegory for reproduction is the best marketing for abstinence we’ve ever seen. And you thought porcelain dolls were scary.

Nature forging a baby, c. 1490-1500, British Library.

The Gigantic Baby

This massive baby is at least half the size of the two angels next to him. And we’re pretty sure his hairline is already receding too. No wonder his mom looks so disillusioned.

Sacra Conversazione (detail) by Cima da Conegliano, c. 1496-8, Gulbenkian Museum.

The Pissed Off Baby

We’re pretty sure babies this young can’t walk – never mind balance on fences to urinate on other babies. On the plus side, well done to him for being out of diapers so quickly.

The Ball Game tapestry (detail), after Giulio Romano, c. 1540, Gulbenkian Museum.

Okay. So why were all these babies so creepy? Didn’t these artists know what babies actually look like?

Yes. But they didn’t necessarily want to paint them that way.

There are logical reasons for why babies are portrayed so strangely in these artworks. Many medieval artists were influenced by the concept of homunculus, meaning ‘little man’ in Latin. These artists chose to portray Jesus as a perfectly-formed human from birth, just smaller. This explains why he appears to have distinctly adult-looking proportions and facial expressions in many paintings.

Because the homuncular Jesus is probably the most common child to be depicted in Western art, portraying children as creepy, mini-adults became a convention for painting all children.

Another contributing factor is how traditional materials degrade with age. Many of the medieval and Renaissance paintings we see today appear different from when they were new – organic materials in paint fade over time, and varnish can discolor or darken. This process can make an already weird baby look even more ghostly or evil.

Many artists also weren’t interested in depicting realistic scenes. Have you ever noticed how strange the proportions are in medieval paintings and manuscripts? People and objects were often portrayed as larger-than-life to emphasize their importance to the scene.

Chronique de la Bouquechardière (detail), 15th century.

Either that or armored giants existed in 15th-century France.

…but we’re pretty sure it’s just a deliberate artistic choice.

There’s a whole world out there.

Have you seen any weird babies in art recently? Share your pictures with us in the comments below.

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