National Disability Arts Collection and Archive

March 27, 2017 by admin

The UK Disability Arts Movement is a unique movement which began in Britain in the 1970s.
It was made up of a group of angry disabled people and their allies who broke barriers, helped change the law, and made great culture about that struggle. This heritage story will live on through NDACA – the collection of objects, ephemera and stories of the Disability Arts Movement.

This brochure reveals the 2015-2018 collecting and digitising process that will allow NDACA to tell a truly great heritage story.

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Dwarfs in the Arts: Diego Velázquez

March 16, 2017 by richard

Dwarfs in the Arts: Diego Velázquez

Long before any writing appeared about dwarfs, they could be found in artwork created in every culture and in every time period. Images of dwarfs were plentiful in the ancient world, in the stone carvings and sculptures of Egypt, the vases of Greece, and the stone reliefs of India. They were a prominent subject in the art of the Mayas and were models for rare bronzes in Benin. Dwarfs are portrayed in ancient Chinese ceramics and in Japanese prints, as well as in the folk art of garden sculptures, which began to appear in sixteenth-century Europe and have persisted into our own times. Probably the best-known representations of dwarfs in the Western world are the religious paintings and the group and individual portraits of court dwarfs that proliferated throughout Europe from the fifteenth to the early eighteenth century. The lessening of this subject matter in art coincided with the declining incidence and ultimate disappearance of dwarfs from the courts. Fantasy little people continued to be caricatured and used to accompany folktales and children’s stories, but paintings and sculptures of dwarfs became relatively scarce in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with only a few first-rate portrait treatments.

European Art from the Fifteenth to Eighteenth Century
Steven Delano, portraitFilmmaker Steven Delano dresses up in antique garbs for a photo shoot during the filming of No Bigger Than a Minute.

In European art of the fifteenth to eighteenth centuries, dwarfs, ubiquitous in the artwork of that period, were portrayed as realistic rather than symbolic or mythic figures. Because they were such an integral part of imperial activities — serving, entertaining, and present at royal celebrations — they are almost never depicted as autonomous beings; rather, they are shown as decorative elements situated at the fringes of the lives of others more important than themselves. Their appearance in art parallels their participation in the courts; they were prominent in both. When the artists of the early Renaissance created the elaborate historical scenes that their patrons had commissioned, there was generally a court dwarf or two to use as a convenient model.

In numerous group settings, dwarfs are omnipresent, playing the role of witness. Whether a particular painting celebrates the triumph of Julius Caesar or depicts a religious scene — the tale of Moses in the bulrushes or the crucifixion of Jesus — dwarfs are often present. The implication is that all manner of men (more often men than women) were present at this extraordinary moment; dwarfs are introduced to intensify the drama and honor the central characters.

Among the many remarkable crowd scenes are several representations of The Adoration of the Magi. A particularly dynamic, colorful example is a painting by the fifteenth-century Florentine Botticelli (c. 1445-1510); in this work an elaborately dressed, dignified dwarf carrying two swords appears in the foreground. In The Discovery of the Infant Moses by the sixteenth-century painter Veronese, one of the Italian noblewomen in attendance when the baby Moses is uncovered encourages a dark-skinned young court dwarf to take notice of him.

Sebastian de Morra, a dwarf attendant in the court of Philip IV of Spain, as painted by Diego Velázquez. Sebastian de Morra, a dwarf attendant in the court of Philip IV of Spain, as painted by Diego Velázquez.

In addition to paintings of a religious subject, there was a profusion of works that celebrated events in the lives of the royalty. Among these is Vasari’s (1511-1574) Marriage of Catherine de Medici to Henry of Orleans, depicting the couple attended by a male and a female dwarf and surrounded by nobility and allegorical figures. In a celebrated painting by Rubens (1577-1640), Alatheia Talbot, Countess Arundel, with its romantic background and luxuriously clothed court figures, the court dwarf Robin appears in luxurious red and gold velvet clothing with a falcon on his wrist.800px-Antonio_Moro-Le_nain_du_cardinal_de_Granvelle_tenant_un_gros_chien-1549-53

In the many paintings of dwarfs and their noble masters and mistresses, it is extremely common to find the dwarf represented as holding a dog of monkey or other animal on a lead. Indeed, the care of animals was frequently their role in cultures as early as ancient Egypt and throughout the centuries of their prominence in the courts. As playmates and trainers of animals, it was implied that they were only one step above the animals in status. Those dwarfs who had not achieved prominence in other vital roles — as artists or scribes or the like — were among the few courtiers who could be spared for this physical task. Both the small humans and the animals were expected to cooperate in providing pleasure and amusement. The dwarf’s master or mistress poses with one hand on the servant’s head — a posture of protection and dominance. Among the paintings that reveal variations on the hierarchical relationships between royalty, court dwarf, and animal is1024px-Peter_Paul_Rubens_005 StanislaHenri_&_Catherineus, the Dwarf of Cardinal Granvella by the Netherlandish artist Anthonis Mor (1517-1576). It shows an elaborately dressed, intense-looking proportionate dwarf, with a large, muscular, brown dog that is nearly as tall as he is. It is reported that the cardinal was equally interested in securing a precise rendering of his dog as he was in obtaining an accurate depiction of this court dwarf and ward.

No Bigger Than a Minute - Diego Velázquez's masterpiece, <em>Las Meninas</em>, features an achondroplastic dwarf, Maria Barbola, among its subjects. Diego Velázquez’s masterpiece, Las Meninas, features an achondroplastic dwarf, Maria Barbola, among its subjects.

Just as intrepid visitors to exhibitions of religious art may find their eyes glazing over after a great many commonplace representations of Madonna and Child, one can tire of seemingly gratuitous and mediocre depictions of dwarf models. There are, however, extraordinary painters who have combined artistic skill and a depth of understanding of dwarf subjects to create works of superb quality.


The artist who has been most widely acclaimed for his sensitive renderings of dwarf subjects is Diego Velázquez (1599-1660). He painted at least ten portraits of dwarfs, most displayed in the Prado museum in Madrid. Perhaps in no other court was the monarch as attached to his dwarf attendants as in the court of Philip IV of Spain, Velázquez’s patron. In Philips’s entourage, at least 110 retainers were dwarfs. This king, “wary of normal human contacts because so much depended on his personal favor, could pamper a dwarf without arousing the envy of the courtiers who were in constant attendance upon him during his peregrinations; a dwarf’s life was irrelevant.”

Without Velázquez’s portraits, we could never visualize so clearly the character of these relationships and the varied natures of these individuals who had become so important to Philip. Some, like Francisco Lezcano, were developmentally disabled. Velázquez painted him draped against a background of clouds, earth, and water; despite his obvious mental incapacity, Francisco emerges as a sympathetic figure. In another work, Velázquez painted Sebastian de Morra, a dwarf whom Philip had requisitioned from the entourage of his younger brother to serve Prince Baltasar Carlos, the future heir to the throne. De Morra, painted in bright, elegant clothing against a dark background, cuts a very dramatic figure — but it is his expression that most commands our attention and has often inspired critical analysis. According to one writer, “His expression is compounded of intelligent curiosity and thinly veiled intensity. The not of assertiveness is subtly conveyed by his red, gold-trimmed smock and by the strong highlight on his forehead. His hands, rolled into tight, ball-like fists, are placed around his belt, making him seem defiant.” Another elaborates: “With his short legs stuck straight out and his thick hands clenched aggressively at his waist, de Morra looks like a plaything stuck up on a shelf. But one glimpse of his intense face and black, angry eyes is enough to convince the viewer that de Morra detested his role, that he wanted to be regarded as the human being he was, not as the toy the court wanted.”

Was de Morra really entertaining the mutinous feelings that these critics perceive? In the absence of a personal statement by de Morra or an explanation of the artist’s conception by Velázquez, viewers have license to project their own personal interpretations. Another model, Diego de Acedo, or El Primo, who was rumored to have been a ladies’ man, comes across quite differently. Exuding intelligence and self-assurance, and perhaps a touch of melancholy, de Acedo, a court official entrusted with the royal seal, is painted against a landscape with mountains and surrounded by large books and a pen and inkpot.

It is of great importance to us here that in his paintings of dwarfs, Velázquez produced searching psychological portraits, taking the same approach that he took toward his other subjects: “The artists who preceded Velázquez at the Spanish court painted dwarfs with a cold detachment that reflected the 16th and 17th century attitude toward the handicapped. Velázquez’s approach differed radically, his style was loose and evocative, and he painted the handicapped as he did the royal family, with humanity, conveying his own recognition that these unfortunate creatures were as human as their masters. He respected their dignity as human beings and delineated their individual personalities.”

Velázquez’s masterpiece is Las Meninas. The painting captures the royal family in the midst of an ordinary day. Two maids of honor are tending to the infanta Margarita while she poses for her portrait. Velázquez himself is included in the image, shown painting the group. Among the characters is a young male dwarf, who rests his foot on a large dog. The king and queen survey the scene through a dim reflection in a mirror in the background, and the achondroplastic dwarf, Maria Barbola, like Velázquez himself, gazes intently at the unseen onlookers.1200px-Velázquez_-_Francisco_Lezcano,_el_Niño_de_Vallecas_(Museo_del_Prado,_1643-45)300px-Velázquez_-_El_bufón_don_Diego_de_Acedo,_el_Primo_(Museo_del_Prado,_c._1645)

The delicate, pampered Margarita contrasts sharply with the sturdy, independent-looking Maria Barbola. How one views this contrast depends, of course on the beholder. While Velázquez was certainly at great pains to create a very attractive presentation of the infanta Margarita, he also has treated Maria respectfully: she appears observant and thoughtful. Nevertheless, one prominent nineteenth-century chronicler of famous dwarfs found Maria Barbola “horribly ugly” and “a little monster.” To those of us who are accustomed to the features of achondroplastic dwarfs, Maria Barbola’s face looks agreeable enough. Interestingly, unlike the faces of most of the other characters in the painting, hers and Velázquez’s are shown both clearly defined and directed fully forward; their glances meet ours: artist and dwarf are alert outsiders — observers and witnesses. Words Steven Delano

Excerpted with permission from:

No Bigger Than a Minute - The Lives of Dwarfs: Their Journey from Public Curiosity Toward Social Liberation, by Betty M. Adelson. Adelson, Betty M. The Lives of Dwarfs: Their Journey from Public Curiosity Toward Social Liberation. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2005. 154-161.


Disabled artists life and works for KS2 and KS 3 students

by richard

Art KS2/KS3 2 sessions examining different disabled artists life and works.  download

Frida Kahlo, 1907–1954

by richard

Frida Kahlo.  download

Breughel, 1521–1569

by richard

Breughel painter of the people 1521-1569. Activities KS3-KS5 download

Michelangelo, 1475–1564

by richard


Michelangelo is widely regarded as the most famous artist of the Italian Renaissance. Among his works are the “David” and “Pieta” statues and the Sistine Chapel frescoes. It is now thought that he had many features of high functioning autism or Aspergers (1)download

Michelangelo was born on March 6, 1475, in Caprese, Italy. Born to a family of moderate means in the banking business, Michelangelo became an apprentice to a painter before studying in the sculpture gardens of the powerful Medici family. What followed was a remarkable career as an artist in the Italian Renaissance, recognized in his own time for his artistic virtuosity. His works include the “David” and “Pieta” statues and the ceiling paintings of Rome’s Sistine Chapel, including the “Last Judgment.” Although he always considered himself a Florentine, Michelangelo lived most of his life in Rome, where he died in 1564, at age 88.

Early Life

Painter, sculptor, architect and poet Michelangelo, one of the most famous artists of the Italian Renaissance, was born Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni on March 6, 1475, in Caprese, Italy. Michelangelo’s father, Leonardo di Buonarrota Simoni, was briefly serving as a magistrate in the small village when he recorded the birth of his second of five sons with his wife, Francesca Neri, but they returned to Florence when Michelangelo was still an infant. Due to his mother’s illness, however, Michelangelo was placed with a family of stonecutters, where he later jested, “With my wet-nurse’s milk, I sucked in the hammer and chisels I use for my statues.”



Michelangelo unveiled the soaring “Last Judgment” on the far wall of the Sistine Chapel in 1541. There was an immediate outcry—that the nude figures were inappropriate for so holy a place, and a letter called for the destruction of the Renaissance’s largest fresco. The painter retaliated by inserting into the work new portrayals: Of his chief critic as a devil and himself as the flayed St. Bartholomew.

Though Michelangelo’s brilliant mind and copious talents earned him the regard and patronage of the wealthy and powerful men of Italy, he had his share of detractors. He had a contentious personality and quick temper, which led to fractious relationships, often with his superiors. This not only got Michelangelo into trouble, it created a pervasive dissatisfaction for the painter, who constantly strived for perfection but was unable to compromise.

He sometimes fell into spells of melancholy, which were recorded in many of his literary works: “I am here in great distress and with great physical strain, and have no friends of any kind, nor do I want them; and I do not have enough time to eat as much as I need; my joy and my sorrow/my repose are these discomforts,” he once wrote.Described by A. Condivi, The Life of Michelangelo, bizzarro e fantastico, a man who “withdrew himself from the company of men.

“I am here in great distress and with physical strain and haver no friends of any kind, nor do I want them and I do not have enough time to eat as much as I need, my joy and my sorrow my repose are these disappointments.”



A report, which appears in the Journal of Medical Biography in 2004 , provides a synthesis of new evidence about the famous 16th century artist, renowned for painting the Sistine Chapel in Rome.

“He was a loner, self-absorbed, and gave his undivided attention to his masterpieces — a feature of autism,” writes lead researcher Muhammad Arshad, PhD, a psychiatrist“Michelangelo met the criteria for Asperger’s disorder, or high-functioning autism,” Arshad adds.

In his report, Arshad outlines research into the great artist — taken from numerous works, including notes from the artist’s assistant and his family. It all points to high-functioning autism, he says.

Autism is a complex disorder that does not affect intelligence. But it does impact how people perceive and process information. Difficulty communicating, social isolation, a need for control, and obsession with very specific interests are hallmarks of autism. For some people, all this makes daily functioning quite difficult. Others get along fairly well, even attend regular schools.

Michelangelo likely suffered from high-functioning autism, called Asperger’s syndrome, says Arshad. Some of his evidence:

  • The men in Michelangelo’s family “displayed autistic traits” and mood disturbances. His family described him as “erratic” and “had trouble applying himself to anything.” As a child and young man, he did not get along with his family and suffered physical abuse.
  • The artist was aloof and a loner. The artist’s mentor described Michelangelo as being unable to make friends or to maintain any relationship. He did not attend his brother’s funeral, which underlined “his inability to show emotion,” writes Arshad.
  • He was obsessed with work and controlling everything in his life — family, money, time. Loss of control caused him great frustration. He was able to generate, in a short time, many hundreds of sketches for the Sistine ceiling — no two alike, nor any pose similar. He gave his undivided attention to his masterpieces.
  • He had difficulty holding up his end of a conversation, often walking away in the middle of an exchange, writes Arshad. He had a short temper, a sarcastic wit, and was paranoid at times. He was bad-tempered and had angry outbursts.
  • He rarely bathed, and often slept in his clothes including his boots. “He has sometimes gone so long without taking them off that then the skin came away, like a snake’s, with the boots,” wrote the artist’s assistant.

“Michelangelo’s single-minded work routine, unusual lifestyle, limited interests, poor social and communication skills, and various issues of life control appear to be features of high-functioning autism,” Arshad concludes.


In addition, in his youth, Michelangelo had taunted a fellow student, and received a blow on the nose that disfigured him for life. Over the years, he suffered increasing infirmities from the rigors of his work; in one of his poems, he documented the tremendous physical strain that he endured by painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Political strife in his beloved Florence also gnawed at him, but his most notable enmity was with fellow Florentine artist Leonardo da Vinci, who was more than 20 years his senior. Micelangelo will have studied human anatomy and visited public dissections such as featured below.79426cd1b873746e351fdb02ae2ff9f5A_depiction_of_an_anatomical_theatre

Richard III Distortion for propaganda, 1452 – 1485

March 8, 2017 by richard

Richard III, portrait with overpaint, c. 1504–20 View ‘Richard III, portrait with overpaint, c. 1504–20′ on the British Library website


This painting in the Royal Collection was first recorded in an inventory of Henry VIII’s collection and would have been commissioned either by Henry VII or Henry VIII as part of a set of royal portraits. The artist is unknown but likely to have been British or Flemish and working at the royal court. Examination of the wooden panel on which the portrait was painted suggests a date between 1504 and 1520.

Finding a true likeness of Richard III is difficult, as his portrayal in art – as in literature and history – has been muddied by propaganda. His Tudor successors, from Henry VII onwards, had a vested interest in portraying Richard III as a bad King to increase their own legitimacy as the line who deposed him. In art, this was done with visual signs based on social values of the time, some of which we would now find prejudicial and offensive. There are external signs, as in a portrait where Richard holds a broken sword symbolising his defeat and failed monarchy; signs of personality in his features, such as painting him with a mean or severe facial expression; and signs written into the characteristics of his body, which is often presented with exaggerated physical impairments to his hand and shoulder, and a dark complexion and hair and eye colour. In the 15th and 16th centuries, darker features and physical impairments were sometimes read as outward signs of inward moral failings. Richard had scoliosis and writers of the Tudor period (including Shakespeare) latched on to this physical difference as a way to tarnish his reputation and prove that he was evil, revelling in a rhetoric of deformity and monstrosity.

This painting seems to show a deliberate decision to alter Richard’s likeness along these propagandist lines. It was likely copied from a pattern or painting made during Richard’s lifetime, but at some point either during its creation or shortly after the portrait was completed, the subject’s right shoulder was altered, the line of his coat being raised to exaggerate or create an unevenness in the shoulders that either wasn’t there or was very slight before. This alteration can be seen with the naked eye as the overpaint has aged differently to the original layer. It has also been suggested that the eyes were overpainted to appear steely grey and that the mouth was turned down at the corners.

The complex relationship between the portrayal of disabled bodies and the purposes to which artists put those portrayals is still a contentious issue for Richard III. When actors play the part of Richard (and these actors are mostly non-disabled), they make decisions about what limps, what crutches, what prosthetic humps will contribute to his physical portrayal. Furthermore, they make decisions about how this physicality relates to Richard’s psychology, his motivation, his nature, even his guilt. What do these decisions say about our attitudes to Richard’s body, or to disabled bodies in general? One might ask if it is even possible to play Shakespeare’s Richard without falling into the trap of portraying his physical impairments as a symbol or cause of the character’s immorality.

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