From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
The iconography probably arose in the Coptic art of Egypt, and is remininscent of images of Isis nursing Horus. The depiction is mentioned by Pope Gregory the Great, and a mosaic depiction probably of the 12th century is on the facade of Santa Maria in Trastevere in Rome, though few other examples survive from before the late Middle Ages. It continued to be found in Orthodox icons (as Galaktotrophousa in Greek, Mlekopitatelnitsa in Russian), especially in Russia.
Usage of the depiction seems to have revived with the Cistercian Order in the 12th century, as part of the general upsurge in Marian theology and devotion. Milk was seen as "processed blood", and the milk of the Virgin to some extent paralleled the role of the Blood of Christ.
Breastfeeding was in the Middle Ages usually contracted out to wetnurses by the middle and upper classes, and the depiction was linked with the Madonna of Humility, a depiction that showed the Virgin in more ordinary clothes than the royal robes in images of the Coronation of the Virgin, and often seated on the ground. The appearance of a large number of such depictions in Tuscany in the early 14th century was something of a visual revolution for the theology of the time, compared to the Queen of Heaven depictions; they were also popular in Iberia. After the Council of Trent in the mid-16th century, clerical writers discouraged nudity in religious subjects, and the use of the Madonna Lactans iconography began to fade away.
A variant, known as the Lactation of St Bernard (Lactatio Bernardi in Latin) is based on a miracle or vision concerning St Bernard of Clairvaux where the Virgin sprinkled milk on his lips (in some versions he is awake, praying before an image of the Madonna, in others asleep). In art he usually kneels before a Madonna Lactans, and as Jesus takes a break from feeding, the Virgin squeezes her breast and he is hit with a squirt of milk, often shown travelling an impressive distance. The milk was variously said to have given him wisdom, shown that the Virgin was his mother (and that of mankind generally), or cured an eye infection. In this form the Nursing Madonna survived into Baroque art.
Another type of depiction, also deprecated after Trent, showed Mary baring her breast in a traditional gesture of female supplication to Christ when asking for mercy for sinners in Deesis or Last Judgement scenes.
From the blog "The hanged man" comes this comment:
- Before they were suppressed by the decorous reforms of Trent, these images supported an astonishing range of piety. The medieval craving for physical contact with the divine took satisfaction in reports of lactation miracles.
- While St. Bernard of Clairvaux knelt in prayer, a statue of Maria Lactans came to life and bestowed three drops of milk on his lips. St. Gertrude the Great nursed the Baby Jesus and Blessed Angela of Foligno nursed at Christ's side. Lidwina of Schiedam saw Mary and her attendant virgins fill the sky with floods of their milk. In legend, suckling the Virgin or living saints brought healing and blessings.
- Religious allegories celebrated lactation. Mary was the maiden in the garden who gave suck to the unicorn-Christ, the innocent victim hunted by men. Ecclesia, Sophia, Caritas, and sundry Virtues were shown as nursing mothers.
Im byzantinischen Reich und auch in Westeuropa des 14. und 15. Jahrhunderts wurde dem Bildtypus der Maria lactans eine andere Bedeutung beigemessen: Das Christuskind ist Gott, der über die Brust der Mutter mit der Menschheit in Verbindung tritt.
Eine der frühesten christlichen Statuen einer stillenden Madonna dürfte die aus dem ersten Jahrtausend stammende Nossa Senhora da Nazeré (Unsere Liebe Frau von Nazareth) in Nazaré, Portugal sein.
Bei den barocken Brunnenkapellen einiger Wallfahrtsorte wird das Wasser durch die Brüste der Marienfigur geleitet, so in der Wallfahrtskirche Mariahilf ob Passau, in der Quelle von Rengersbrunn oder in Maria Ehrenberg.
Bei Laktationsschwierigkeiten oder Mastitis war es in einigen Regionen Brauch, vor einer Maria-Lactans-Darstellung zu beten und wächserne Nachbildungen der eigenen Brüste als Weihegabe zu opfern.
- Pregnant Madonna
- Madonna (art)
- Roman Charity
- One of the earliest depictions (if not the earliest depiction) of Mary, is Our Lady nursing, as painted in the Priscilla Catacombs ca. A.D. 250;