Portraying Pregnancy: From Holbein to Social Media

I went to an inspiring opening at The Foundling Museum‘s new exhibition called Portraying Pregnancy: From Holbein to Social Media. Portraying Pregnancy is a major exhibition exploring the female body through portraits from the last 500 years. I was lucky enough to attend the curator’s talk, with my babe in arms and I suddenly felt quite nostalgic (only 7 months later) about what a wonderful feeling it is to be pregnant.

But the exhibition also reminded me of how lucky we are to be mamas are today. We live in a time where we can celebrate the pregnant body, not conceal it. Where society (as a general rule) is not trying to ignore it. Or even fear it. And, where fashion is designed specifically to embrace and proudly show off the pregnant bump. But most importantly, where the medical support for pregnant women — and the likelihood of a healthy birth — is possible.

Their write-up says it all:

Until the twentieth century, many women spent most of their adult years pregnant. Despite this, pregnancies are seldom apparent in surviving portraits. This exhibition brings together images of women who were depicted at a time when they were pregnant (whether visibly so or not). Through paintings, prints, photographs, objects and clothing from the fifteenth century to the present day, discover the different ways in which pregnancy was, or was not, represented; how shifting social attitudes have impacted on depictions of pregnant women; how the possibility of death in childbirth brought additional tension to such representations; and how more recent images, which often reflect increased female agency and empowerment, still remain highly charged.

How true it is! We can easily scroll thru our Instagram feeds and see beautiful bumps, basking on the beach. Or selfies and hashtags updating us with the week to week growth of a baby, only to  forget how being pregnant was very different only a hundred years ago. Before ultrasounds, before gender reveal parties, before Annie Leibowitz photographed Demi Moore nude and pregnant on newsstand covers.

Aren’t we lucky to live now. What do you think?

And, if you are in London, the Foundling Museum’s Portraying Pregnancy exhibit is from now until the 26 April 2020. If you are in London, they are also offering new mums a chance to join us for a tour of the exhibition with babes in arms. And they will have a Pregnancy Portrait workshop.

If you would like more of our pregnancy posts, we have lots including ones of home births, best books for pregnant mamas, pregnancy after a miscarriage, best maternity essentials, depression during pregnancy, or just visit our entire page dedicated to all of our pregnancy posts.


Thank you to The Tate and The Foundling Museum for the elegant woman in red painting too!


Comments (2)

Sue Kennedy
February 14, 2020

Sounds like a fascinating exhibition, and planning my visit now. I always thought pregnancy portraits were relatively new, but how brillant to have an exhibition on it going back centuries. Another source of inspiration for me.

Lara in London
February 23, 2020

Thanks Sue! It is very interesting to see pregnancy portraits in one space, I hope you enjoy it.

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