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The intimate atmosphere of this portrait, with its minimal accessories and plain background, focuses attention on the tender, informal relationship between mother and child. This reflects both Romney’s enthusiasm for maternal subjects in the 1770s, said to have been inspired by Raphael’s Madonnas, and a wider cultural shift in ideas about child-rearing. Rich mothers were encouraged to breast-feed their babies, rather than hand them to ‘wet-nurses’ while children were encouraged to play and express their feelings, rather than act like serious little adults.

October 2013