the pz gesture of the lactating goddess Table of contents

Abstract & Preface

poetry by
Adrienne Rich


Chapter I:
The hand of "El caballero de la mano al pecho"

Chapter II:
Iconographical sources of nursing and nursing gestures in pre-Christian and non-Christian cultures

Chapter III:
Iconographical sources of nursing and nursing gestures in Christian cultures

Chapter IV:
Breast-feeding forms in the Renaissance

Chapter V:
Literary sources of lactating goddesses

Chapter VI:
The meaning
of the
Ostentatio Mammarum
and the
pseudo- zygodactylous gesture


Illustrations & Bibliography

Biographical sketch

Footnotes



The
pseudo-
zygodactylous
gesture

of the
lactating
goddess
:

evolution
and
migration


A thesis submitted to the faculty
of the Graduate School of
the University of Minnesota

by

thomas peter kunesh

in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of

Master of Arts in Religious Studies


december 1990

copyright thomas peter kunesh 1990


Table of Contents

Frontispiece i
Table of contents iv
List of illustrations vii
Abstract viii
Preface ix

poetry by Adrienne Rich 1

Chapter I: The hand of "El caballero de la mano al pecho" 2
Introduction 2
Method 3
Hypotheses of the hand gesture 4
El Greco 4
Crypto-Jewish secret 5
Jesuit penance 8
Other speculations 10
External form and observable characteristics of the gesture 11
Zygodactylism 11
Pseudo-zygodactylism 14
Broader incidence and context of the gesture 15
Preliminary hypothesis 17
Regarding religion and myth 18

Chapter II: Iconographical sources of nursing and nursing gestures in pre-Christian and non-Christian cultures 20
Pre-Indo-European Europe 20
Ancient Near East: Hittites, Sumeria, Ur, Warka/Uruk, Ugarit, Hebrews 21
Egypt: Isis, Hathor, et al. 23
India: Maya, Yashoda, Putana, Hariti, Nayika 26
Far East Asia: Kuan Yin 27
Indo-European Europe: Etruria and Greece 28
The Americas 29
Africa 29
Conclusion 29

Chapter III: Iconographical sources of nursing and nursing gestures in Christian cultures 31
Paleo-Christian art 32
Rome 32
Egyptian and Coptic art 33
The iconoclasm of the Dark Ages 34
The Later Middle Ages, into the Renaissance 35
The Renaissance: Non-Christian motifs and abstractions 35

Chapter IV: Breast-feeding forms in the Renaissance 37
Historical and methodological note 37
1. Mother and Divine Child (maternal dyad) 42 2. Virgin and humans/sinners/relief of pain: (milk projected through space) (multiple/communal dyad) 45
3. Juno and Hercules/Hera and Herakles/gift of immortality/adoption (spiritual dyad) 45
4. Mediatrix/Intercesora (triad) 46
5. Blessing/affirmation/adoption (SS. Bernard, Augustine) 52
6. Pseudo-zygodactylous gesture alone 54

Chapter V: Literary sources of lactating goddesses 57
India: the Rg Veda and the Upanishads 57
Mesopotamia 58
Ninhursag/a 59
Egyptian: Isis, Nephthys 59
Greek 60
Etruscan 62
Hebrew scriptures: the Torah 63
Christian scriptures: the New Testament 64
Christian Apocrypha 65
Church fathers: Irenæus and Jerome 66
Saints and mystics 66
Christian folklore 68

Chapter VI: The meaning of the Ostentatio Mammarum and the pseudo-zygodactylous gesture 69
The lactation motif 69
Personal types 69
Impersonal types 72
The meaning of the hand gesture 73
Immortal female 73
Immortal male 76
Mortal male 77
Conclusion 78

Bibliography 80

Biographical sketch 95

List of illustrations

Figure 1. El Greco, "El caballero de la mano al pecho" frontispiece
Figure 2. Zygodactyly 12
Figure 3. "Isis nursing Horus (the pharaoh)" 24
Figure 4. "Hera nursing Herakles" 28
Figure 5. Gerard David, "Rest on the flight to Egypt" 38
Figure 6. Joos van Cleve, "Halte en Exil" 39
Figure 7. Niederländischer Meister, "The Virgin and Child" 40
Figure 8. Gerard David, "Virgen con Niño" 41
Figure 9. Colyn de Coter, "The Virgin interceding" 50
Figure 10. "Lactation miracle of St. Bernard" 52
Figure 11. Jan Gossart dit Mabuse, "Carondelet diptych" 55
Figure 12. Modern nursing mother 73
Figure 13. William-Adolphe Bouguereau, "Virgin and angels" 75
Figure 14. Eugene Grasset, "Jeanne d'Arc" 79

Footnotes


Abstract

The hand gesture in El Greco's painting "El caballero de la mano al pecho", here called the "pseudo-zygodactylous" gesture, is traced, through comparing similar gestures and iconographical scenes, to breastfeeding images of goddesses, e.g., the Virgin Mary, Hera, and Isis, nursing male infants. As theology and artistic stylization develop in Christianity in the medieval and Renaissance periods, the gesture's occurrence is noted in paintings of the Virgin Mary in a nursing attitude but without a child, in a position of maternal care for mortals seeking heavenly salvation. The gesture later appears in art without a nursing context, used by saintly characters and, ultimately, secular figures such as El Greco's "Caballero". The gesture's symbolic meaning is extrapolated from these religious contexts, both artistic and literary: maternal (goddess) power and influence over the fate of human beings (mortals) in the afterworld, and men's desire to secure immortality through symbolic control of female deities, which ensures continued access to salvation (immortality).


Preface

In 1980 i began a year-long course of Hispanic Studies at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid which included a class on the History of Art in Spain. We covered the entire evolution of art in Spain, from paleolithic cave paintings through Picasso. Midway through the class we studied the art of El Greco, and one day the professor showed a slide of El Greco's "El caballero de la mano al pecho". The hand gesture in the painting intrigued me, so i stayed afterwards to ask the professor what it symbolized. Two of theories he offered are included in the text, but neither explained the gesture to my satisfaction; both left out an explanation of the gesture's occurrence in El Greco's other paintings, not to mention its frequent occurrence throughout the Renaissance. From that point on i looked for examples of the gesture in other artwork, searching for a reason behind the gesture's use. I hope that the theory offered in this thesis gives a broader, more coherent explanation of the gesture as it occurs in Renaissance and later religious art.




Small mouths, needy, suck you: This is love
--To a poet


Remind me how we loved our mother's body
our mouths drawing the first thin
sweetness from her nipples

--Sibling mysteries


... And how beneath

the strange male bodies
we sank in terror and resignation
and how we taught them tenderness

the holding-back, the play,
the floating of a finger
the secrets of the nipple

--Sibling mysteries, 3


-- Adrienne Rich, The dream of
a common language

poems 1974-1977