Tuesday, December 18, 2007

maria lactans

I began reading blogs regularly in August of 2006. Nora was only 3 months old and I was up with her often in the middle of the night. I needed something “to do” while I nursed her (no, I am not the kind of mom content to stare sweetly at her child while breastfeeding; I get bored. I must multi-task). So I began reading blogs and quickly got addicted.

I remember vividly one topic which spread like wildfire over the blogosphere that August: whether a photo of a woman nursing her baby on the cover of a certain magazine was indecent. Many mommy bloggers wrote about the topic and several even sent in photos of themselves breastfeeding to this site. I was amused and then intrigued by the discussion. Reading these posts, I realized that I had very few memories of my mother nursing her babies despite the fact that she breastfeed all 9 of us. The many, many diapers? Sure I remember those. But there are no pictures (in my mind or on film) to document all those hours she must have spent on the couch with a child to her breast.

When I decided recently that I had had enough of the human starfish and I began weaning Nora, I made Ken take a few discrete pictures of me nursing her. I’m not sure what I’ll do with them. No I don’t plan to post them to the internet. I’m just happy to have some kind of record that shows a part of who I was and what I did—what I spent many collective hours doing with (and for) each of my children. I have nursed my children on the couch, in my bed, in nursing lounges, in bathroom stalls, in hallways, on a public bus, in museums, in the house of every friend or relation I have, in the library, while watching Lord of the Rings in a crowded theater, at the zoo, in several national parks, in the car pulled over on the side of the freeway, in tents, on boats, on airplanes, and on trains…but not in the rain or in a box or with a fox (just in case you were wondering).

Anyway, my point is that I’ve spent a lot of time nursing over the years and I figured, why not get a picture of that? I hope someday at least Nora will appreciate having the documentation.

This brings me to today’s painting of Mary, Jesus and Saint Luke by Rogier van der Weyden. It isn’t unusual at all in art (especially after the 13th century) to see Mary as a nursing mother. These “Maria Lactans” images show the humanity of both the mother and child, and they carry the weight of heavier symbols as well: charity, spiritual nourishment, and salvation. Art historians make the connection between the Christian imagery and earlier pagan depictions of nursing goddesses, but that’s another story.

What I really like about this painting is the fact that Luke is kneeling there drawing a picture of the event. He is recording the life of Christ, just as he did in verbal form for his gospel (a text we read over and over, especially at this time of year). But now Luke is documenting the simple truth that babies get hungry and mothers feed them. In Christian art, Luke is traditionally shown as a painter, but here he just holds a sketch book and pen. Maybe Luke was planning on painting something more dramatic—a posed family portrait with peace gestures or something iconic—but before he could get out his paints and brushes, it was time for another feeding. And it looks like Rogier van der Weyden imagined Luke saying, “Now there’s something worthy of at least a little sketch.”


Cakes said...

I love the pictures of Mary feeding the baby Jesus. They show such a wonderful glimpse into the daily lives of this mother and child.

I have a couple of pictures I have posted them on the internet. But, mostly in response to Facebook.

Kimberly said...

What a wonderful idea to document that part of your life. There is so much giving and self-sacrifice involved in nursing a child, so much love...it would be kind of sad to see the memories slip away unremarked upon.

www.annkroeker.wordpress.com said...

Luke as painter, sketching a little moment in time, the baby needing a little nourishment.

You've inspired me to read through the four gospels with the idea of Luke as painter and also the idea of him capturing more ordinary and earthy images than the others--and see if there's a difference.

How do they represent Mark? Does he show up in artwork, too? The other two, Matthew and John, were disciples, so I assume they're often in the stories themselves as Jesus' companions. But what about Mark?

Klutzmom said...

Yes, Jules. I spent many hours nursing my babies. I figured out the number once and it was staggering. I enjoyed nursing but also ended up multi-tasking. At least until the baby got old enough to want to grab at whatever I was reading or crocheting.

My favorite multi-task event was nursing your brother, Thom, climbing up the Mount of Olives with the ties of my blouse decorously drapped over his little 6 week-old face. We were surrounded by single student and in those days it was shocking to expose the breast.

So, there may be pictures of me nursing but you can't tell.

txmommy said...

you always have interesting thoughts...unlike me...I don't remember if I think some days.

Thanks for sharing, and thanks for the lovely picture.

Geo said...

And yours was likewise a worthy sketch.