‘The Virgin and Laughing Child’ is one of my favourite Renaissance pieces at the V&A. It was made in 15th century Italy, possibly as a maquette for a larger statue or as a stand-alone devotional statue for a house.
The main things I love about this work are the natural poses and expressions of the mother and child. Many religious art works of the Medieval and Renaissance periods, such as ‘The Virgin and Child with Two Saints’ also on display at the V&A, feature a grim Virgin and solemn Christ-child surrounded by symbols relating to the adult Christ’s suffering and death.
‘The Virgin and Laughing Child’ carries none of this morbid severity. Here the Virgin gazes adoringly down as the baby cuddled on her lap giggles with glee at something beyond our view. It reminds me of when a photographer pulls faces and waves soft toys around to make a baby smile for the family portrait; you can picture the sculptor creating this work from life, by observing a the interactions between a real mother and her child.
I think this piece is so appealling because it rings true; it is not a reminder of the death to come, but a celebration of the life yet to be lived.
All photographs my own
Both works on display in the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries at the V&A