This charming portrait of a young noble child is associated with two other versions by the same unknown artist – one at Queen’s University, Belfast, and another, formerly in the collection of the Marquesses of Lothian at Newbattle Abbey. Although the identity of the sitter has been lost over time, the fact that there are other versions suggests that this child was from an important, indeed princely, family. This is further evident from the costly dress, richly embroidered in spun gold thread, and encrusted with pearls and diamonds at the hem. The shoes are likewise embroidered with gold embellishment, and the hat bears an extraordinary jewelled pin (which takes the form of a crown in the other versions).
Ryde, Ryde Town Hall, Ryde Art Treasures Exhibition, 1881 – 1882.
The child, who can be no more than one or two years old, bears in its left hand a red coral teething toy. Coral jewellery was commonly used in the seventeenth century for its legendary protective qualities. Believed to ward off the evil eye, it was worn as a talisman to repel sickness and disease. A common baptism gift, coral was often kept and passed on to the next generation. In its other hand, the child holds a garland of flowers, a metaphor for the blooming of youth, innocence and love. It may perhaps indicate the child’s gender as female. There was little or no difference in the clothing of very young children – they all wore ‘skirts’ and bonnets, regardless of whether they were male or female. Boys did not pass out of skirts and into breeches until they were around six or seven years old.