Brancusi’s Newborn

I strongly recommend that you read read my friend Shelley’s post on Brancusi’s Newborn. Shelley’s blog has a picture of an earlier version done in marble (1915); the picture I have is of a bronze version from 1920 (MoMA collection). I prefer the pristine, white marble version, but I like the angle of the sculpture in this image.

Shelley beautifully describes this sculpture as a depiction of a crying newborn. (She is also expecting twins at present, so perhaps her maternal hormones are helping her to write about newborns in such a lovely fashion.) Along these same lines, another writer described this sculpture as an egg that begins to stir and open:

“This Newborn [figure] may be explained thus to anyone who resists it: Here is the egg or the embryo beginning to break up and stir. It stops being a perfect egg shape and stirs into life. It flattens out at one side and seems to open up like a baby crying to be fed.”1

I know that Brancusi did not like his work to be called “abstract,” but instead felt like his sculptures embodied the “essence” of things.2 Because of this, I have a hard time describing Brancusi’s sculptures – I feel like I’m always going to use an incorrect term or upset someone. To play it safe, I’ll just say that I feel like this sculpture embodies the essence of new life. Isn’t it a beautiful sculpture?

1 Louis Slobodkin, Sculpture, Principles and Practice, Dover Publications, Inc, 1949. Citation found on an art blog post; I recommend that people read this post as well.

2 Brancusi reportedly said, “There are imbeciles who call my work as abstract; that which they call abstract is the most realist, because what is real is not the exterior form but the idea, the essence of things.” See Ernest C. Marshall, “Artistic Convention and the Issue of Truth in Art,” Journal of Aesthetic Education 23, no. 3 (Autumn, 1989): 74.

  • Emilee . . . says:

    Hmmm … I think it is a beautiful piece of work. Very beautiful actually. But, perhaps I’m not nearly as artistic as I’d hope to be because nothing about that looks like a newborn ready to eat (to me). I can see the whole new life and birth kind of thing … but the other? Not so much. But, again, I do think it’s beautiful.

  • ixoj says:

    Hm. I think I’d rather see the entire thing before I made a judgment on it, but I think it’s kind of strange. Nice looking, but I’m not seeing the baby crying to be fed…

  • M says:

    I wouldn’t have noticed a baby’s face if I hadn’t read Shelley’s description. I can really see the open mouth in the flattened oval area, especially since the raised bump at the bottom reminds me of Sam’s two bottom teeth. The curved arc reminds me of when Sam furrows his brow when he cries.

    As of yet, I haven’t found any statement by Brancusi about this sculpture. (Does anyone know of one?) He may not have intended it to look like a baby’s face. Nonetheless, I think it’s an interesting interpretation.

  • joolee says:

    This sculpture is very beautiful! It actually reminds me of Meso-american art, which sometimes depicted their maize god as a crying newborn. The sculptures were somewhat simplified and emphasized a down-turned mouth just like Brancusi’s. I’ll have to find some images. Did you ever take any Meso classes Monica? They were actually really, really interesting.

  • M says:

    Oooh, if you find a Mesoamerican picture of a maize god, I’d love to see it! That’s really interesting that the god was depicted as a crying newborn. I never got to take a Meso course while I was in school; I kind of regret it.

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This blog focuses on making Western art history accessible and interesting to all types of audiences: art historians, students, and anyone else who is curious about art. Alberti’s Window is maintained by Monica Bowen, an art historian and professor.