Charcoal on tan Rives BFK paper. Roughly 90"x 20".
An illustration of a traditional ballad called "Cruel Mother", among other things. Child Ballad #20. I'm not quite happy with the woman's face, but i only had about a square inch to work with.
The first documented version, as far as I can tell, was published as a broadside dated 1638; another labeled "The Duke's Daughter's Cruelty: Or the Wonderful Apparition of two Infants whom she Murther'd and Buried in a Forrest, for to hide her Shame" was published in London sometime between 1688-1695. The song is found in English, Scottish, and eventually American (esp. Appalachian) traditional music.
The song is about a young woman who falls in love with and is betrayed by her father's clerk, and then delivers a pair of twins while alone in the woods some time later. She kills each of the babes with her penknife (in some versions she strangles them with her hair ribbons), and buries them in the woods. Later, as she is walking in her father's hall, she runs across two children playing ball, and she exclaims that if they were her children she'd dress them up in fine silks. The children say that when they were hers, she didn't treat them quite so kindly. The young woman asks them what kind of death she'll have to die. They tell her that she'll spend seven years each a fish in the flood, a bird in the wood, a tongue in the morning bell, and in the flames of hell. The young lady welcomes each her fates but the last, which she prays that God will spare her from.