Let the Environment Speak: Attributes in Children’s Portraiture of the Seventeenth – Late Eighteenth Century

Acta Academiae Artium Vilnensis


  • Joana Vitkutė




children’s portraits, portrait attributes, Lithuanian National Museum of Art, Samogitian Museum “Alka”, M. K. Čiurlionis National Museum of Art, National Museum of Lithuania


It is difficult to imagine early secular portraits without one of their key constituent elements – attributes. Objects, animals, wardrobe elements, and other details that were depicted in representational and intimate compositions had to express as accurately as possible the social status, hobbies, or even character traits of the portrayed person, thus testifying to how that person sought to present themselves, and at the same time to record how others wished to see them. The latter circumstance is particularly evident in children’s portraits. For many centuries, children’s portraits, commissioned by their parents, guardians or other relatives, and usually modelled after adult portraits, primarily performed the functions of consolidating the family status and embodying the expectations placed on the offspring. Today, attributes seen in portraits can help us to trace these expectations. The subject of the article is six characteristic portraits of children from the seventeenth to the late eighteenth centuries by local and international artists held in the collections of Lithuanian museums. Examining their iconography and, above all, their attributive symbolism, the author of the article seeks to verbalise the gradually changing image of interpretation and representation of childhood captured in these paintings.


Having taken a closer look at the specific images of children in the collections of Lithuanian museums, it can be concluded that although attributes in the portraits of young children usually perform the function of structural and social attribution, the objects accompanying the children also bear witness to much more complex relationships between the portrayed child and their environment represented in the work of art, which pose considerable interpretative challenges. Early images of children are revealed as a complex and unique field of intersection between actual childhood and the external ambitions shaping it, in which attributes also play an important role.

Author Biography

Joana Vitkutė

completed her BA in Art History at the Vilnius Academy of Arts in 2019 and obtained an MA in Art History from the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen in the Neth­ erlands in 2020. In 2021, she started doctoral studies in Art History at the Vilnius Acad­ emy of Arts (thesis: Representation of Children in Lithuanian Art of the Mid-18th – First Half of the 19th Century: “The Discovery of Childhood”). From 2021, she is a junior re­ search fellow at the Institute of Art Research of the Vilnius Academy of Arts and an exposition and exhibition curator of the Vilnius Picture Gallery of Lithuanian National Art Museum. She investigates Lithuanian and Western secular art of the sixteenth–nine­ teenth centuries with special interest in iconography, history, origins and functioning of artworks. Recently she has turned her focus on the genre of early children’s portraits.



How to Cite

Vitkutė, J. (2023). Let the Environment Speak: Attributes in Children’s Portraiture of the Seventeenth – Late Eighteenth Century: Acta Academiae Artium Vilnensis. Acta Academiae Artium Vilnensis, (110-111), 363–397. https://doi.org/10.37522/aaav.110-111.2023.180