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The Hand that Rocked the Cradle

The Art of Birth and Infancy

Throughout the history of art, artists have been drawn to images of birth and infancy. After all, who doesn’t want to look at a baby? This book uses that bounty of imagery to offer a fresh perspective on the history of birth and the early years of life through a rich array of images and objects, including paintings, prints, sculptures, metalwork, jewelry, textiles, ceramics, furniture, and woodwork—as well as images from medical and social history collections.

            Exploring a long chronological scope, from around 1300 to the turn of the twentieth century, Sue Laurence provides insight into the enduring nature of many traditions and experiences related to childhood and infancy—many of which we tend to assume are of recent vintage, but turn out, when examined closely, to have roots in the medieval era. Packed with beautiful images, and offering surprising new interpretations and contextualization, The Hand That Rocks the Cradle is a treasure trove for any lover of art—or doting parent.

192 pages | 50 color plates, 65 halftones | 6 x 9 1/4 | © 2018

Art: Art--General Studies


"Progressing from conception to birth, lying-in, nurture and the milestones of child development, religious ritual and folklore and the pitfalls of neglect, abandonment and abuse, it reads, and looks, like the distillation of a lifetime's work. . . . [A] historical narrative studded with sobering and peculiar facts and anecdotes and a wealth of revealing illustrations. . . . This book itself is a cabinet of curiosities, startling, comic and tragic."

The Spectator

"This short and eminently digestible book takes the reader on a rip-roaring ride. . . . Images of fascinating – if at times, terrifying – objects relating to these rites are accompanied by illustrations of these pivotal life events, without which, quite simply, we wouldn’t be here today."

Art Quarterly

"Parts of this book are not for the faint-hearted. . . . Sue Lawrence thematically describes and amply illustrates the salient aspects - the womb, conception and pregnancy; birth and lying-in; rites de passage and milestones of growth; breastfeeding . . . and the dark side of accidents, abuse, deaths and abandonments. A former curator of the Florence Nightingale Museum and head of the Victoria and Albert Museum of Childhood, Sue Laurence writes with authority. Those looking for drama without the gore should stick to the reality TV series Sam and Billie Faiers's Mummy Diaries or Ferne McCann's First Time Mum (also authoritative in their own right)."

The Art Newspaper

"In addition to sculptures, paintings, and prints, Laurence examines such oddities of material culture as lockets containing the caul (the fetal membrane sometimes covering the head at birth), curtained birthing chairs, and an intrauterine syringe for emergency baptisms of the not-yet-born. This fascinating glimpse into the human reproductive past both delights and disturbs. Laurence’s accessible text informs and entertains and is richly accompanied by 122 illustrations, many in color. . . . Recommended."


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