I first became fascinated with ugly Renaissance babies in 2011 when I paid a visit to the National Gallery of Umbria in Perugia. I had some time to kill and wandered around looking at all the Madonnas and other ladies with a baby and I was stunned at how … odd the infants looked. They had these adult expressions translated into chubby little features with the result that most of them resembled nothing so much as pint-sized satyrs who’d seen it all, drunk it all, done it all. I’m talking Romper Room Reprobates here.
I’ve since discovered I’m not alone in my obsession with these enfants terribles. There’s an entire Tumblr dedicated to Ugly Renaissance Babies; it’s hilarious; I highly recommend it.
But there’s nothing like a little firsthand experience so finding myself in the Umbrian village of Montefalco recently, I took a quick spin around the small but charming museum housed in a former church and Franciscan monastery. Would they have paintings of babies? I wondered. And would said babies sport just the right creep factor of world weariness on their fleshy little faces?
Yes and yes.
Here are my favorites and the messages I believe they’re conveying across the centuries:
THIS BABY IS SO OVER YOU ASKING IF THOSE PANTS MAKE YOU LOOK FAT. YOUR FAT MAKES YOU LOOK FAT.
THIS BABY WILL ANSWER YOUR FOOLISH QUESTIONS JUST AS SOON AS HE DECIDES WHETHER TO SQUEEZE THE BIRD TO DEATH OR POKE ITS EYE OUT.*
*Bonus points for the bird’s understandably lively look of apprehension.
THIS BABY DOES NOT BELIEVE FOR A SECOND THAT YOU ACCIDENTALLY TEXTED THAT GUY.
THIS BABY IS NOT ANGRY, JUST VERY, VERY DISAPPOINTED THAT THERE IS ONCE AGAIN NO RUBBER DUCKY IN HIS BATH.*
*And if it happens again he’s taking away the other half of that lady’s head.
THIS BABY KNOWS EXACTLY WHAT YOU’RE THINKING, AND QUITE FRANKLY HE JUST. DOES. NOT. GIVE. ONE. DAMN.*
*Yeah, he full-on killed his bird. What of it?