The Cradle

Olivier Perrin1805/1808


Marseilles, France

This drawing by Olivier Perrin (1761-1832) is part of a series published in 1808 under the title of « Galerie des mœurs, usages et coutumes des Bretons de l’Armorique » (Gallery of Manners, Customs and Costumes of the Bretons of Armorica), better known as the Galerie Bretonne. This interior Breton scene depicts a swaddled child, held down by straps passed through the sides of the cradle, as was frequently done in 19th century France. This system ensured that the child would not be ejected from the bed by overly powerful rocking. Here, the mother gently rocks the little bed with the tip of her toe whilst pursuing another household activity, hemp spinning, seated on the chest-bench alongside her own bed.

Right nearby, two hogs are busy eating, their snouts and feet plunged in a tub. Up until the second half of the 20th century, it was common in rural French homes for their livestock to literally live under the same roof as the family. In the 1808 publication of the Galerie Bretonne, this scene’s commentator harshly criticized the habit of letting swine roam about the house. He cautioned against those animals which, according to him, were guilty of “devouring the hands, faces and sometimes the entire heads of infants in their cradles”. This warning, although condescending toward Breton peasants, was characteristic of the intellectual elite of the 19th century, who sought to promote better living conditions for the French population.

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  • Title: The Cradle
  • Creator: Olivier Perrin
  • Date Created: 1805/1808
  • Location: Finistère, France
  • Physical Dimensions: 25,5 x 20,2 cm
  • Medium: Paper, graphite, ink and wash