Dolls in the Middle Ages, between play and magic


Until the twelfth century the condemnation was strong from the Church towards entertainment and toys, then gradually softened. In Italy, even up to the period of the municipalities there were laws against games and toys that were however easily infringed. In particular, the doll suffered a sort of persecution for the magical value that was attached to it, this persecution was however quite useless and was also quite mild as the presence of dolls was very widespread and rooted in the population at many levels.


In the fifteenth century, in Florence, we are faced with richly dressed dolls that were given to young ladies or girls to "accustom them" to the future just as were given dolls dressed in the habit of a nun to future nuns.

Dolls in the Roman age, II-III sec d.c.
Dolls in the Roman age, II-III sec d.c.

The doll had inherited from previous eras (in the period of the Roman Empire it was very widespread), an almost magical value, double that of a human being and therefore, according to the beliefs of the time, it gave power to those who had the possibility to own it and manipulate it; for this reason it was considered a magical object and tool of witches and wizards. It made the one who possessed it almost like God, could even become a small idol herself.

The dolls, as artifacts, relatively to the Middle Ages, have not been preserved in quantity because they are made of perishable materials such as cloth and clay. Not even art bears any trace of it, as, at that time, it did not deal with everyday life but was addressed above all to the Sacred and the divine. Peter Bruegel in the painting "Children's Games" is the first to depict a scene of this type, two women in the act of building a doll. There are also two autonomous ones present in the Medici wardrobe certainly not intended for children's games but objects of entertainment for adults.

Peter Bruegel,  Children's Games
Peter Bruegel, Children's Games

Hence the distrust of the Church. The Church therefore, I deduce, failing to eliminate this use of dolls that has been present since ancient times, makes it her own through the crib. In this way, man can hold nothing less than God himself in his hands, dress him and protect him, thus the cult of "children" develops. The figure of the baby Jesus is made of marble, papier-mâché, terracotta, wax, sugar, bread, etc. The doll, however it remains a controversial object can be loved or can arouse fear, can also arouse tenderness. Due to this duality it will always retain a magical and cathartic component.

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  • Franco Cardini, Le bambole nel medioevo toscano.
  • Wikipedia
  • romanoimpero.com


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