Dozens, perhaps hundreds, of late medieval and Renaissance paintings and sculptures depict the Virgin Mary with one breast exposed as she is nursing the infant Christ. The origins of the image are disputed, but whatever its origins, depictions of the lactating Virgin acquired new meaning and new urgency in mid-14th-century Tuscany. In communities under siege from plague, wars and malnutrition, the Virgin’s breast was a symbol of God’s loving provision of life, the nourishment and care that sustain life, and the salvation that promises eternal life.
Kudos: Jason Byassee, Century assistant editor, won the 2007 American Academy of Religion award for best in-depth reporting on religion for news outlets with less than 100,000 circulation. He has also recently had two books published: Praise Seeking Understanding: Reading the Psalms with Augustine (Eerdmans) and Reading Augustine (Cascade Books).