Exhibitions/ Art Object

The Newborn Baby

Matthijs Naiveu (Dutch, Leiden 1647–1726 Amsterdam)
Oil on canvas
25 1/4 x 31 1/2 in. (64.1 x 80 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, 1871
Accession Number:
Not on view
This canvas celebrates the arrival of a newborn baby and was painted in 1675, the year in which the artist himself married and became a father for the first time. However, the picture also relates to the social ritual known as kraambezoek, or "lying in visit," a traditional and popular subject in art and literature of that period.  

Placed in the foreground, flooded with light, the esteemed "Floral and Cloudband" carpet is given particular attention and enhances this important ritual of patrician society. Its warm coloring contrasts with the blue and green tones of the rest of the composition and directs the viewer's attention in a diagonal line via other red details to the back of the scene, where the new father, smoking a pipe, is toasted with a glass of red wine in celebration. A large stormy seascape decorates the room and is reminder of the uncertainty and ephemerality of life. Thus the carpet, along with its connotations of prosperity, also evokes the uselessness and the vanity of worldly things.
The picture celebrates the arrival of a newborn baby and was painted in 1675, the year in which the artist himself married and became a father for the first time. However, the subject was traditional and popular in the 1660s, to judge from paintings by Gabriel Metsu, Jan Steen, Eglon van der Neer, and others. In slightly later years, the theme flourished in art and literature, for example with paintings by Naiveu of about 1700 such as The Lying-in Room (Stedelijk Museum De Lakenhal, Leiden) and plays such as Thomas Asselijn's Kraem-bedt (Birthbed) of 1683. The Amsterdam genre painter Cornelis Troost (1696–1750) followed Naiveu in presenting the scene as if it were set on a stage. The present picture's composition, the more theatrical look of the painting in Leiden, and Naiveu's other representations of theatrical subjects underscore the connection with popular plays.

Compared with Metsu's description of the same social ritual (The Met, 17.190.20)—a kraambezoek, or "lying-in visit"—Naiveu characteristically takes a more literal approach. The convalescent mistress of the house is attended by an old nurse-midwife, who serves a bowl of porridge. A visiting lady, elegantly attired, holds the tightly swaddled infant on her lap. A pot of hot coals has been placed in the foot warmer. The luxurious fabrics covering the wicker cradle, the table, the bed, and the mother herself were special features of a kraamkamer, or birthing room, which was usually set up temporarily in a town house.

The covered glass goblet on the table contains kandeel, a drink usually made with wine, sugar, cinnamon, and other spices. A cinnamon stick, lemon slices, and probably egg white (on the bottom) complete the concoction, which was intended for guests. On the plate is a little bowl of bread or pastry filled with muisjes (little mice), sugar-coated caraway seeds or cinnamon sticks made as treats for children. Another bowl of muisjes delights the little girl.

The Steen-like vignette in the background shows the new father smoking a pipe and celebrating with four male companions. A maid hands around another goblet of kandeel while the father is toasted with a glass of wine. As in Metsu's picture of the same subject, a large stormy seascape reminds one of life's uncertainty. The sculpted cupid that swings aloft at top center is an uncommon motif in this context but probably refers to the newborn.

[2017; adapted from Liedtke 2007]
Inscription: Signed and dated (lower left): M: Naiveú F. / 1675
[Léon Gauchez, Paris]; William T. Blodgett, Paris (from 1870; sold half share to Johnston); William T. Blodgett, Paris, and John Taylor Johnston, New York (1870–71; sold to MMA)
Nashville. Fisk University. "[title not known]," April 20–August 15, 1951, no catalogue.

Atlanta University. "[title not known]," September 1, 1951–January 30, 1952, no catalogue.

New Orleans. Dillard University. "[title not known]," February 1–April 30, 1952, no catalogue.

New York. American Federation of the Arts. "Little Masters in 17th Century Holland and Flanders (circulating exhibition)," 1954–57, no catalogue.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Age of Rembrandt: Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," September 18, 2007–January 6, 2008, no catalogue.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Carpets of the East in Paintings from the West," March 11–June 29, 2014, no catalogue.

Toronto. Aga Khan Museum. "A Thirst for Riches: Carpets from the East in Paintings from the West," June 6–October 18, 2015, no catalogue.

Peter C. Sutton. A Guide to Dutch Art in America. Grand Rapids, Mich., 1986, p. 188.

Eric J. Sluijter et al., ed. Leidse Fijnschilders: Van Gerrit Dou tot Frans van Mieris de Jonge, 1630–1760. Exh. cat., Stedelijk Museum De Lakenhal, Leiden. Zwolle, The Netherlands, 1988, p. 190, fig. 64.

Ivan Gaskell. Vermeer's Wager: Speculations on Art History, Theory and Art Museums. London, 2000, p. 242 n. 51.

Katharine Baetjer. "Buying Pictures for New York: The Founding Purchase of 1871." Metropolitan Museum Journal 39 (2004), pp. 197, 208, 245, appendix 1A no. 102, ill. p. 208 and fig. 34 (installation photograph).

Walter Liedtke. Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2007, vol. 1, pp. 463–65, 502–4, no. 128, colorpl. 128.

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