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The Epoch Times
The Epoch Times
11 Feb 2023

NextImg:Protective Intentions: 'A Boy Defending a Baby From an Eagle'

My mother once told me this story. When I was three months old, my parents took me camping in northern Wisconsin. We stayed in a small tent. My father went hunting, so my mother sat in a sunny clearing near the tent and put me on a pink blanket nearby. She soon noticed a large bird, possibly a bald eagle, looming high above. Each time it circled, the raptor dropped a little lower. Directly over me. My mother rushed over to me, and quickly gathered me back to the tent, safe from a dangerous predator.

Frederick Leighton (1830–1896) catches such a moment in his painting, “A Boy Defending a Baby From an Eagle.” Unaware of its danger, a small sleeping baby would be an easy meal for a large raptor. Perhaps the parents thought the child safe in a covered area.

“A Boy Defending a Baby Against an Eagle,” circa 1850, Lord Frederick Leighton. Oil on canvas, 19 1/4 inches by 19 1/2 inches. (Art Renewal Center)

Leighton chooses a moment of intense action: An eagle had swooped down and grabbed the baby’s blanket. A young boy, who might have been in the field helping his family harvest the grain, rushes forward with arms poised to strike with a scythe. The eagle sees the threat and throws its claw toward the little protector.

The painting is all about intense movement that will end in a clash. The artist captured the intensity of the moment with the eagle and the boy in full action mode. Two physically intense figures are poised to attack.

Although only a bird, the eagle’s ferocity makes it physically imposing. Exuding hunger and power in equal measure, the large predator will let nothing stand in the way of its meal. The eagle’s wings are in full flying mode with a fearsome claw ready to pierce the little boy. The other claw will soon take the child itself.

But the eagle is no match for a young boy ready to protect a loved one. Every part of the boy is moving to destroy this threat to the little child. His legs propel him directly toward the danger. His fierce expression shows he means business. There is no backing away.

The boy’s fierce attack suggests a family relationship to the sleeping child. Living in the same home, eating meals together, and working together make for close relationships. Big brothers have a special place in a growing family. When called upon, they can indeed protect younger siblings from danger.

The painting is a tondo, a circular painting that was a popular form in the Renaissance. The figures flow around the circular shape, as does the receding field of grain on one side and thick greenery on the other. A gray overcast sky balances the gold and green backdrop to the intense action. while the dark brown of the eagle’s feathers plays against the white blanket and pink skin of the child.

Frederic Leighton was one of the most influential artists of the Victorian era, who painted figures in a traditionally classical manner.

He built an impressive collection of artwork and established an artistic salon for up-and-coming young artists. Theartstory says that Leighton “became renowned as a campaigner for artistic and architectural conservation both in London and abroad.”