ABSTRACT

In Tuscany in the fifteenth century large, round wooden trays, known as deschi da parto, were given between friends and families in anticipation or in celebration of the birth of a child. These birth trays were often painted on both sides and were used to bring food and drink into the chamber where the mother lay. Extant trays show that the decoration could vary considerably: from confinement scenes and images of baby boys (figs 8.1 and 8.2), to episodes from classical narrative such as the Judgement of Paris, and biblical stories like the Meeting of Solomon and Sheba.2 Other trays were painted with images deriving from Petrarch’s Triumph poems (begun in the 1340s), especially the Triumph of Love and the Triumph of Chastity (figs 8.3 and 8.4).3 The dominant theme of the Triumph of Love, namely the way men and women have been driven to foolish acts because of an infatuation with their loved one, was part of the ‘women-on-top’ topos, which was exceedingly popular in the fifteenth and early sixteenth century in both texts and images.4 In ‘worldturned-upside-down’ images such as the prints produced by the Housebook Master in Germany in 1485, women were depicted in dominating positions, and men were shown submitting to their power or obediently serving them.5 On a birth tray from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, Phyllis is shown riding Aristotle and Delilah cutting Samson’s hair (fig. 8.3).6