Iconography of the Breastfeeding Madonna

Earlier this year, Madonna (the pop star) – ever the one to attempt to scandalise her work – included some images of her (pretending) to breast feed in the video clip for her song Give Me All Your Love, which has since been edited out of some versions!  Now, I’m an old-school fan of Madonna (what girl of my generation isn’t?) but really, she’s a pretty shadowy impersonation of the original!

Cath McKinney (see reddresstheology post 11th October 2012) has introduced me to a whole tradition of iconography which has been lost in contemporary western consciousness: it is the image of Mary breastfeeding Jesus.

Leonardo da Vinci

I am 42 years old; been a Christian for 28 years; breastfed 2 of my own children; but I have never before encountered images of the Mother of Jesus breastfeeding. It seems the prudish religion of the Modern era has had no stomach for nakedness of any kind.

But Mary breastfeeding her Babe appears in some of the earliest examples of christian art that we have access to:

Our Lady as painted in the Priscilla Catacombs, ca. A.D. 250

Apparently, the vatican have decided to promote mara lactans iconography post vatican II because it is well suited to their gender politics.

contemporary artist Iris van Zanten

The breastfeeding Madonna also has an ancient tradition in the Orthodox churches, known as Galaktotophousa, celebrated each year on the 3rd July.  In this tradition, the breast of the Mother of God is often positioned in a deliberately de-sexualising position and Jesus’ hand in a posture of blessing.

The Virgin Galaktotrophousa, originally kept at St Sava in Jerusalem

The purpose of an icon is to draw us into an experience of the divine by telling us a story about God.  I wonder, what kind of God is present in this relationship between mother and child?  What do you see?  What do you feel?  What do you know about God that is represented here?  And what does that say about your relationship with God today?

You can read more about the theology of the maria lactans from a Roman Catholic perspective here:  www.fisheaters.com.  And access a whole host of maria lactan images here: http://pinterest.com/azaelia/maria-lactans/

Here is a blog explaining the Galaktotrophousa from an Orthodox perspective: http://iconreader.wordpress.com.

Oh, and if you really need to see it, here’s a link to Madonna’s video.

4 thoughts on “Iconography of the Breastfeeding Madonna

  1. Thank You for this great post and blog! I have nominated you for the Inspiring Blogger Award and Beautiful Blogger Award because I love your blog. To share this little bit of blogging kindness: 1. Display the award image on your blog. 2. Link back to the person who nominated you. 3. State 7 things about yourself. 4. Nominate 15 other bloggers and link to their sites. 5. Notify the bloggers that they have been nominated and link to the post. http://wholeness4all.wordpress.com/2012/11/26/spreading-the-love
    Be Blessed!

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