Gustave Doré, The Street Performers, 1874⁠

Doré was an accomplished acrobat, so when he read an account in the newspaper about a family of street performers whose child died after a fall, it’s no wonder that he made a couple versions of this scene. Here the deathly pale child is held in his mother’s arms recalling the Pieta, the scene from Christ’s life when his lifeless body is taken down off the cross and laid in the Virgin Mary’s lap. The father sits beside his wife and child looking incredibly sad – perhaps it was he who dropped the child. Beside the mother sits an owl looking away from the scene, suggesting that the parents have gone against wisdom and better judgement. On the ground below the mother’s feet there is a tarot card reading. She knew in advance what the outcome of the performance would be and yet she forced her child to do it anyway. About this painting Doré said “…[the child] is dying. I wished to depict the tardy awakening of nature in those two hardened almost brutalized beings. To gain money they have killed their child and in killing him they have found out that they had hearts.”⁠


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