The Art and Artistry of Mother and Child

Smithsonian Magazine

One of the most prominent bonds in human portraiture is that of mother and child, one that returns again each spring in Mother’s Day cards. The Smithsonian museums have a wealth of such art. Search “mother” in the collections and hundreds of thousands of records are revealed from portraits of Mother Theresa to drawings of Mother Goose. For centuries any artistic rendering of mother and child meant religious images of the Madonna and child. One of the oldest is a 17th-century etching of the Madonna with the Christ child on her lap holding a carnation.

The unbreakable bonds of a mother and her child seem to share a universal appeal across abstract, folk art, photography, sculpture and paint. At a time when the museums are closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the online collections at the Smithsonian—recently made all the more available with a new open access platform—offer myriad ways to explore and entertain. We sought out works of art honoring mothers and their children and here we present 16 of our findings.

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