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The Renaissance

During the Renaissance in Italy, people were preoccupied with death. Depictions of death could be found everywhere: in poetry, art, and on tombs. Of the thousands, if not millions, of children who died during the Middle Ages, Margaret King writes of the privileged Valerio Marcello, an eight year old boy who’s death in 1461 sent his father into inconsolable despair. Jacopo Antonio Marcello of Venice was a nobleman, an active military man and soldier, as well as a patron of the arts and humanities. Despite the fact that he was able to perform his duties dependably, as a public figure he was admonished by his peers for his inability to relinquish his grief. The senior Marcello contributed a compilation of the works addressed to him by poets, writers, historians, and friends, which he had illustrated in gilt, to the consolation literature of the Renaissance period. Although never completed, this collection of poetry, letters, eulogies, and apologies represents the largest and most resonant consolatory collection of the Renaissance.32

During the Renaissance, monuments to the dead were widespread in Europe, with the majority erected for adults. If children were commemorated at all, then it was most often within the context of the monument for the adult. In Renaissance era Poland, however, funeral monuments for children were prevalent. Jean- nie Labno cataloged forty-four funerary monuments constructed for children, of 333 total monuments built for children. This collection included monuments for both girls and boys, and appears to be a strong indicator of attitudes toward children as well as gender. The monuments were dated to the early sixteenth century. Most monuments included a motif of aputto and a skull. The sleepingputto (like a little angel) references the infant Jesus in depictions of the Virgin and child. The appeal “to [the] commonly understood emotion of motherly love enabled bringing the mourners closer to God”, and helped the family come to terms with the death.33 Of Labno’s research, one of the most famous examples is a monument to three stillborn babies, possibly the children of the mayor of Olawa, Poland. In fact, most of the monuments are to the very young -under age three. Some monuments also depicted children lovingly embracing their parents, illustrating sentiments of familial bonds.

The Laments of Jan Kochanowski , a great poet of Poland (whose poetry is discussed in more detail in Chapter 9) are commonly abstracted or adapted on inscriptions of monuments in Poland. Kochanowski’s own Laments were written after the death of his two year old daughter. One particularly moving inscription, written by Kochanowski for another family (and subsequently adapted) is as follows:

Here lies Piotr Mikolaj Karczewski his parent’s affection, Or more aptly his tears and his lamentation.. .A gracious delightful, uncommonly talented child/who having shown great tokens of all youthful virtues/suddenly, and without warning passed away/in his unripe years,/to the great and unbearable sorrow of his parents/ written with tears by Jan Karczewski, his unhappy father,/for his dearest son/...He did not stay long on this earth twenty weeks.

He was born on Monday in April and gave his breath to God on Thursday [the festival of the Holy Cross] in the year 160134

Monuments were considered a replacement for the “Social Body” of the deceased; their role in society and family, and their achievement as evidenced by the size, location, heraldry and materials used. Thus, attitudes toward death and burial rites impacted the commemorative practices of later societies. Compared to Poland, other European societies did not regard the child as highly. This too, suggests familial relations were different in Poland than elsewhere. It is worth noting that although some societies may not regard children highly, it does not speak to personal reactions to a death. Children were viewed from the perspective of the potential they held as future adults, a phenomenon seen among prehistoric families as well, where children were buried with tools that they may have used in the future. Further, children were seen as a sign of God’s blessing or a symbol of dynastic achievement. “Erecting a funeral monument to a child accords a child a second burial.”35

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