Maternity: A Young Mother Cradling Her Baby, 1870–73, Jean-François Millet (French, 1814–1875), oil on canvas
Millet was admired for his themes of agriculture and daily life among French peasants, rendered with great respect for their human dignity. Finished near the end of his life when Millet was in declining health, this painting is a meditation on his own mortality. He reinterprets the traditional pietà by placing the tightly bound body of the sleeping child on the mother’s lap as if to suggest the body of Christ lying across the Virgin Mary. In the upper left corner is a small household shrine with a crucifix, barely visible in the shadowy gloom. In contrast to the innocent face of her sleeping child, the mother’s unfixed stare is both tender and sorrowful.