Childbirth Tray (Desco da Parto) with The Triumph of Love

Childbirth Tray (Desco da Parto) with The Triumph of Love
Florentine, Childbirth Tray (Desco da Parto) with The Triumph of Love, circa 1470. Tempera on panel, 18 3/4 in x 19 1/2 in (octagonal). Museum purchase in honor of Lilian Armstrong, Wellesley class of 1958 and professor emerita in the Art Department, through a generous gift from her Wellesley classmate, Phoebe Dent Weil (Class of 1958). 2008.590

The imagery on tray fronts ranged from Petrarchan triumphs and other contemporary literary themes to biblical and mythological narratives and, in some cases, representations of bedchambers following childbirth itself, where the mother is surrounded by various attendents and the baby is swaddled or fed. Wellesley's tray is anomalous; it follows the basic outline of a Petrarchan Triumph of Love, with the bow-bearing Cupid shooting his arrows at the lovers ranged around the processional cart pulled by a pair of white horses. The composition is pushed to the front of the picture plane and this immediacy eliminates many of the details more common to trays of this subject; there are fewer lovers, they cannot be identified, and the red banner held aloft by the leading lady has what seems to be a wild boar, a beast unrelated to Petrarch's poem but perhaps a heraldic device of the original owner instead. It seems that our artist, who probably worked from a collection of model drawings, did not know the text and was not aware of all of the specific attributes of a Triumph of Love.

Many trays, like Wellesley's, were planed down in intervening centuries and only survive as one-sided panels. But tray backs were often painted with gameboards to occupy the mother while she recovered, heraldry, or representations of naked cavorting boys that celebrated the much-anticipated child.

Wellesley's Desco da Parto was purchased in honor of Lilian Armstrong, Wellesley class of '58 and professor emerita in the Art Department, through a generous gift from her Wellesley classmate, Phoebe D. Weil.

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