Protecting children’s heads from injury is a longstanding concern of parents, particularly during the toddler stage when a child is learning to walk. As a preventative measure children of past centuries wore a padded cap known as a pudding to cushion falls. Made of cloth or leather, the pudding is constructed of rolls filled with horsehair, straw, or similar fibers, with the main roll encasing the circumference of the child’s head. Puddings were often worn over a silk or linen cap or over a piece of linen cloth.
Paintings provide excellent visual information showing how and when puddings were worn. A work by Peter Paul Rubens, ca. 1636, depicts his young son Frans, along with his wife and himself, posed in a garden setting. Frans’s head is covered with a white linen cloth tied under his chin; atop the cloth sits a blue pudding cap, with a padded roll and narrow ribbon ties across the crown (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1981.238). In Nicolaes Maes’s “The Lacemaker,” ca. 1656, a seated child wears a red pudding over a white linen cloth (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 32.100.5). In the eighteenth century puddings appear in various depictions of genre scenes by painters, such as François Boucher’s Family Taking Breakfast (1739, Louvre, R.F. 926).
This pudding is constructed of bright red leather padded and quilted into thick bands that circumscribe the head and bands that meet at the top; the edges are bound in red silk with a red silk tie at the crown; it is lined in beige leather. The small circumference of this pudding, with its interior measurement of three inches, was likely made for a doll rather than a child. While most eighteenth-century dolls were dressed as adults in fashionable clothes, some examples represent children. A doll in the collection of Colonial Williamsburg (G1971-1739) wears a dress which at first glance appears to be for an adult but closer inspection reveals leading strings attached to the back shoulders of the dress, indicating that it is attired as a child. In the Rubens painting, Frans also wears leading strings along with his pudding.
Costume accessories worn by children survive with much less frequency than those of adults. Known examples of puddings are in the collections of Colonial Williamsburg, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Royal Ontario Museum, and the Manchester City Museums.
Provenance: Ex. coll. Mrs. DeWitt Clinton Cohen.