Madonna and Child (Madonna del Latte)
Andrea and Nino Pisano
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This intimate marble half-length sculpture of the Virgin Mary nursing her son is one of the first (possibly the first) Italian sculpture of the Madonna Lactans, a theme already popular by this point in painting, but not sculpted until later. Mary is wearing the sort of dress a contemporary mother would wear with a slit to allow the baby to nurse. In this period, many upper class women sent their children to wet nurses, which preachers and others discouraged, because character was thought to be imparted through the milk and also because of the wish to encourage maternal nursing as the best way to raise healthy babies in a time in which the population was repeatedly devastated by the plague. Here, the baby's fingers press into his mother's breast and he parts his lips to take her whole nipple into his mouth in a gesture immediately recognizable to nursing women. Mary holds her child and looks tenderly down at him. This work has been attributed to Andrea Pisano, his son Nino, or a collaboration between the two, and scholars disagree about dating. Traces of the original gilding and paint are still visible, but it must have been more vividly realistically painted originally, as for example the pupils are not carved, and so must have been painted. The sculpture is housed in the Museo di San Matteo in Pisa. Photograph(s) licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.