The pictures represent the the story of Saint Bernard. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) knelt one day in front of a statue of the Virgin and Child and asked her, “Show yourself to be a mother.” While in a dream-like trance, Mary responded by pressing her breast near his lips and nourishing him with her milk.
The story seems to have spread from Spain, and is shown a few different ways: with Mary shooting milk at his mouth (representing an oracle being received), at his eyes (representing clairvoyance), or at his forehead (representing wisdom being received).
This myth was painted over and over through the years. There is a great gallery of images of Mary as Maria Lactans, the nursing mother, at Fisheaters.
|Master Iam van Zwoll, The Lactation of St. Bernard, 1480-1485, engraving. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam|
What I love about this story is that it shows the power of breast milk, intentionally or not. Mary is a very powerful feminine icon, and when she is shown as Maria Lactans, it gives nursing and motherhood power. I think if anyone ever tries to give you trouble for breastfeeding, you should remind them that Mary breastfed Jesus! In a time when Playboy definitely was not for sale at the castle giftshop, paintings were made that not only showed women nursing, but even shooting milk at the random soon-to-be-saint of their choice. Boo-yah.
|Alonso Cano, The Miraculous Lactation of Saint Bernard, c. 1650, oil on panel. Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid|
|Artist unknown, 1460|
Juan de las Roelas (1560 - 1625)