Unknown (French?) (18th-19th century)

A Mother Giving Birth to a Baby

Reference Type:
c. 1800 (18th-19th century)
At the turn of the nineteenth century, numerous births were still attended by midwives. Here, an elderly woman with no doubt years of experience guides a baby out of the birth canal while her assistant pours water into a shallow bowl in which she will wash the infant. The midwife is calm, and her assistant smiling, so it can be assumed that all is going well. The mother is seated with one foot on the floor and the other positioned on a small foot stool. Her face shows both concentration and pain. Normally, the midwife’s assistant would sit or stand behind her, helping to support her back. Instead, her husband takes that position—but slightly to the side, which forces his wife to help support herself with both hands behind her body on the seat. The position of the man’s right hand is somewhat unusual, almost as if he was instructing another figure out of our sight to come no closer. His face shows a mixture of concern, pleasure, and pride as he watches his child come into the world. He and his wife are not only physically and emotionally linked together, but artistically as well. For example: his right leg is in the same position and acts as a counterpart to her left; his outstretched arm parallels her other thigh; and her garters match the color of his trousers. The fluids that emerge with the baby are represented, but toned down in both quantity and color. Instead of bright red, the blood is pink, which better complements the pastel color scheme of the composition and helps to reduce the shock factor of such a scene. Notes by Mariann Smith
History of Medicine
Women's Health
Wellcome Library, London