Maria Lactans

The Virgin Mary suckling Jesus, 1530, by Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553), oil on canvas.
The Virgin Mary suckling Jesus, 1530, by Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553), oil on canvas.

Mary Breastfeeding Jesus: Christmas’ Missing Icon: “It was the takeover of the crucifixion as the major symbol of God’s love for humanity” that supplanted the breast-feeding icon, she said. And that was a decisive shift from the earliest days of Christianity when “the virgin’s nursing breast, the lactating virgin, was the primary symbol of God’s love for humanity.”

I won’t deny that a suckling Jesus was a popular medieval image (and can be found in some early Christian art), but to call it the “primary symbol” of Christianity in the “earliest days” seems like a bit of overreach to me. And from someone who’s book is titled A Complex Delight: The Secularization of the Breast, 1350-1750 (NB to HuffingtonPost: Book titles should be italicized, not put in quotation marks; those represent article titles).

Regardless, how would you react to receiving a Christmas card with a breastfeeding Mary and Jesus on it?

2 thoughts on “Maria Lactans

  1. I would think it was a gratuitous attempt at shock value – especially in this culture where breastfeeding is ridiculously taboo. I would also think it was a strange picture to choose for your Christmas cards (just as I would if I got a Christmas card bearing a picture of my next-door neighbor breastfeeding her newborn daughter). But, I have no problem with the image itself, and consider it an accurate and beautiful piece of history.

  2. Because of the way women’s breasts are regarded as a sex object in contemporary society, I would initially be uncomfortable with it or even think it disrespectful. However – that IS how Jesus was nursed – at the breast. Not a bottle, not with formula. It actually would be appropriate though I think it would not be all that well received with our current thinking in place.

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