Why Babies in Medieval Paintings Look So Old and Scary

Have you ever been wandering around an art museum and found yourself chuckling at the angry middle-aged-man heads on Medieval babies? "Wow, those Medieval artists were terrible at painting children!" You probably thought to yourself. But the joke is actually on you: These artists wanted their paintings to feature mini versions of that guy from one cubicle over.

Vox spoke to Matthew Averett, an art history professor at Creighton University who edited the anthology The Early Modern Child in Art and History, to find out why this trend towards intentionally old-looking babies abounded during the Middle Ages—and what caused the shift during the Renaissance toward the chubby-cheeked cherubic faces we recognize as babies.

The reasoning, like all things artistic in the Middle Ages, has to do with Jesus. Back then, the Church commissioned most of the portraits of babies and children. And they didn't want just any old baby—they wanted the baby Jesus (or other biblical kids). Medieval artists subscribed to the concept of homunculus, which literally means "little man," or the belief that Jesus was born "perfectly formed and unchanged," Averett said.

This homuncular, adult-looking baby Jesus became the standard for all children, an exemplar that stuck in the Middle Ages because artists at the time had, according to Averett, a "lack of interest in naturalism, and they veered more toward expressionistic conventions."

During the Renaissance, however, non-religious art flourished, and wealthy patrons wanted portraits of their darling children that were cute—not Benjamin Button-esque. Add a greater attention to realism, and babies began shifting away from the hyper-stylized homuncular.

95 Years of The New Yorker Covers Visualized by Color

Screenshot via C82
Screenshot via C82

On February 21, 1925, The New Yorker appeared on the magazine scene with a cover illustration of a dandy drawn by art editor Rea Irvin, a character later christened Eustace Tilley. Almost a century later, Tilley still graces the cover of The New Yorker at least once a year on the magazine’s anniversary. Other weeks, they commission artists to illustrate timely political topics and evergreen moods.

The magazine has run more than 4600 covers in its 92 years of near-weekly issues (it’s currently published 47 times a year), all of which you can explore by color, thanks to designer Nicholas Rougeux (who has previously visualized sentences and punctuation in classic literature).


Using an algorithm, Rougeux analyzed the top five colors represented in every cover illustration and created a color palette for that issue. Then, he mapped out a palette for every single cover, creating a timeline of New Yorker design. It allows you to see what colors have dominated particular years and decades. If you scroll over the individual palettes, you can see the full image of that week’s cover.


Rougeux found some trends in the colors that have repeatedly graced the magazine’s cover. “Limited and muted palettes were used the 1920s," he writes on his site, while "possibly due to printing limitations, darker greens were more common in the 1940s, lighter palettes were used in the 1970s and 1980s, louder contrasting palettes were popular in the 1990s and more well-rounded palettes started being used since the 2000s.”

You can explore the color timeline for yourself here.

All images courtesy Nicholas Rougeux

Bob Ross's Son Is Holding Painting Classes at a Tennessee Library

Bob Ross.
Bob Ross.
Bob Ross Inc.

For anyone who has ever logged on to the internet, Bob Ross needs no introduction. The painter, who passed away in 1995, spent the years 1983 through 1994 hosting the PBS series The Joy of Painting, where his soothing manner and bubbling-spring landscapes comforted viewers.

On several episodes, Bob’s son, Steve Ross, could be seen painting his own nature scenes as guest host or assisting his father in answering reader questions.

According to WVLT, Steve Ross is now set to offer painting classes at the Blount County Public Library in Maryville, Tennessee. He will be joined by Dana Jester, an artist who also appeared on The Joy of Painting. The workshops will be held March 4 through March 8 and will cost $125 per attendee, who will also be expected to bring their own supplies. The classes will last the entire day.

If locals are curious and don’t want to commit to the fee, Steve and Dana will be hosting a free demonstration on March 5 at 6:30 p.m.

After his guest spots on his father’s program, Steve appeared to retreat from public life, though clips of his appearances were apparently popular on Tumblr for their inadvertently risqué banter. (“It can be dirty, it doesn’t have to be clean,” and so forth.)

Bob Ross also taught classes even while The Joy of Painting was airing. He purportedly received no income from that show, earning a living via merchandising and appearances.

[h/t WVLT]

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