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Bartolomeo Vivarini - Maria Lactans

by Claire Deuticke

A nursing woman feeds her child at the breast. Her head is slightly tilted to the side, her gaze lowered. She wears a blue robe, underneath a bright red dress, under which the belly bulges slightly. Both colors are the traditional "Mary colors". Her hair is wrapped in a white cloth. It is loosely draped around her shoulders. The child, resting in the arms of the mother, clasps with his hands the exposed breast by which he is suckled. Full, curly hair surrounds his little head. It is wrapped in a brown cloth and wears a white undergarment from which bare, well-fed legs peek out. The background is dipped in a golden hue.

That this is not an everyday scene between mother and child is revealed by the halos, so-called nimbuses, glowing in gold, which surround the heads of mother and child. In addition, the title of the painting proves that this is a particular type of depiction of Mary - Maria Lactans, the nursing Mother of God. This image motif already appears in ancient Egyptian culture, where the goddess Isis breastfeeds the Horus boy. Mary, like Isis before her, passes on divine power with her milk. In Christianity, the image type is also symbolic of fertility and is said to demonstrate a deep humanity of the baby Jesus through the act of breastfeeding.

Bartolomeo Vivarini - Maria Lactans

Gold and tempera on wood, ca. 1450, 55,5 x 37,6 cm, Galeri G. Sarti in Paris


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