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Title: Litel enfaunt that were but late borne : the image of the infans in medieval culture in north-west Europe
Authors: Oosterwijk, Sophia.
Award date: 1999
Presented at: University of Leicester
Abstract: Notwithstanding nearly four decades of debate on the history of childhood, medieval infantia - especially early infancy - remains probably the least-known period of life. Medieval art may seem to present the infant merely as a swaddled cocoon, an image often misinterpreted. High infant mortality rates in the past - although accurate demographic data for the Middle Ages are lacking - have persuaded some scholars that parents regarded infants as potentially short-lived creatures whose demise was met with resignation or even indifference. However, this dissertation provides a more nuanced imagery of early infancy in medieval culture. Contemporary authors were interested in infants not just from a medical or moralistic view-point, but also as an innocent being whose death could be truly tragic. The biblical story of the Massacre of the Innocents inspired artists, authors and playwrights alike, not simply as one episode from Christ's infancy but as a horrifying drama of great emotional impact. When the danse macabre emerged as a literary and visual theme, it included the young infans amongst Death's archetypal victims. Such an attitude to infants presupposes that their mortality was regarded not with indifference but rather as profoundly moving. Yet there was also an ambivalent attitude towards the infant, who was considered weak and immature as well as innocent. In fact, the age of heavenly perfection to be adopted by all mankind at the Resurrection was generally believed to be that of the adult Christ. Nonetheless, the introduction of a limbo puerorum suggests not only a desire for a more merciful fate for unbaptized infants but also that they were envisaged as children, not as would-be adults. All this material, derived from a wide range of primary and secondary sources, cumulatively suggests that medieval attitudes towards infant mortality were more complex, subtle, and emotional than modern scholars have frequently suggested.
Type: Thesis
Level: Doctoral
Qualification: PhD
Rights: Copyright © the author. All rights reserved.
Appears in Collections:Theses, Dept. of History of Art and Film
Leicester Theses

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