In his painting Take your Son, Sir, Ford Madox Brown portrays his second wife, Emma, as a woman offering her child to his father. The positions of the figures suggest traditional depictions of the Madonna and Child. Behind the female figure is a circular mirror that serves a double purpose. Firstly, it highlights her depiction as the Madonna by creating a halo around her head. And secondly, it reflects the male figure she faces, the "Sir" referred to in the title. The man in the mirror stands precisely in the viewer's position and both woman and child look upon him intently. Thus Brown, in an elevation of the Pre-Raphaelite principle of bringing the action to the foreground, places the action exactly between the two figures and the viewer.
The painting lends itself to two diverging interpretations. One is a celebration of marriage and the role of the mother in Victorian England. The other is a brutal social commentary of the fallen woman demanding her lover's responsibility for their illegitimate child. Yet Brown's grotesque depictions of the figures point to the second interpretation. Although the mother's cheeks burn red — with shame? — her face is deathly pale. And, given the ornate surroundings, the child she awkwardly grasps in her hands is starkly, perhaps even unnaturally, naked.
1. The traditional Madonna is rarely depicted wearing white; she usually wears blue or red. Why would Brown paint Emma in white?
2. What is the effect of placing the viewer within the painting?
3. What social and moral implications does Brown convey stylistically in the figures of his Madonna and Child?
4. Compare the depiction of the female figures in Brown's Take your Son, Sir and in his The Last of England. Take note of their positions, how they hold their respective child, their facial expressions, etc.
Last modified 28 May 2007