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


Chapter I:
the Hand of "El caballero de la mano al pecho"

In Madrid's Museo del Prado hangs the world's largest collection of El Greco's paintings. Among them, in a room alongside other portraits, hangs the painting known only as "El caballero de la mano al pecho"--the gentleman with his hand on his chest.

The purpose of this study is to determine the meaning of the gesture used in the portrait of "El caballero de la mano al pecho." This essay is an iconographical analysis of the hand sign viewed from historical and religious perspectives. As in the analysis of the cultural anthropologist, the final conclusion can only be inferred from the material since the analysis deals with the art, the history, and the religions of centuries past, and because it deals with an artifact of symbolic communication--a hand gesture--as old as art, though forgotten today. This study also seeks to establish the status of the gesture within the Christian economy of salvation and its iconology, linking the gesture to the breastfeeding of goddesses, then progressively to their ability to bestow eternal life through their milk, to the gradual evolution of the gesture away from the naked breast, and its migration to men for their use in seeking maternal salvation.


Around the year 15781 in Toledo or Madrid, Spain, the painter Doménikos Theotokópoulos, originally from Crete, and known as "El Greco" (the Greek), created a painting that is now called "El caballero de la mano al pecho," "The man with his hand on his chest." (See frontispiece.) The painting is a half-body portrait on a dark background of an unknown bearded Spanish gentleman dressed in basic black with white lace trim at his wrist and neck, adorned with a gold pendant and the gold hilt of a sword high up on his left side, with his right hand on his chest. There is a single peculiarity about this painting: the gesture of his right hand--fingers splayed except for the third and fourth digits which are tight together. These two fingers are painted together in such a way that--were it not so odd--one would assume that they were physically joined. This peculiarity, his hand gesture, "ha hecho correr ríos de tinta"2 and begs for further investigation.


The hand gesture of El Greco's caballero has not gone unnoticed by art historians of the past, although their efforts have been directed solely at examining the work of El Greco, and even then not as a whole but concentrating primarily on this masterpiece, to wrest the enigmatic meaning of the caballero's oddly spaced and placed hand. Historians of Spanish art have indulged themselves in this speculation regarding the meaning of this man's gesture: "His hand is placed on his breast as if to affirm some fact of great importance, holding his heart as witness to some oath. If the pose is unusual, even stranger is the manner in which this hand is placed, with the two middle fingers joined together, whereas the others are spread out fanwise."3 Since there are no art manuals that describe this specific gesture or what it signified, its meaning and latent symbolism must be deduced from secondary sources and then can only be theoretically supposed. To go any farther we must then first assume that the caballero's hand gesture, i.e., the stylized manner of splaying the thumb, the second, and the fifth fingers, while keeping the third and fourth joined, has some significance other than being simply a hand on a chest. Our mundane experience tells us that these fingers, given both their unusual natural occurrence and their singular repetition in certain artists' work, are not pathologically joined but are displayed thus as an artistic device--be it spontaneously mechanical or philosophically symbolic. This artistic technique, used by both Titian and El Greco and many others before them, leads one to presume that the gesture is not merely an infrequent oddity but a content-laden symbol: a communication of a larger abstract idea through a smaller physical sign.4 A method of analyzing the symbolic communication from painter to painting to viewer can be constructed by using Victor Turner's three classes of data that inform the "structure and properties of ritual symbols: 1. external form and observable characteristics; 2. interpretations offered by specialists and by laymen; 3. significant contexts largely worked out by the anthropologist."5 By covering these three areas within a historical context we should be able to arrive at the meaning that lays behind the hand. However, since the gesture has already been practically introduced for its study in relation to the single painting in question and for the purposes of this paper, the order of Turner's methodology will be modified by reversing numbers (1) and (2).

Hypotheses of the hand gesture

Only two basic hypotheses regarding the hand gesture's meaning have been presented, both from this century and both based more on desires to decode this one single instance of the hand gesture rather than to provide an analytical discussion of the phenomenon of the gesture as a whole--a classic example of not being able to see the forest for the trees. The two theories are: 1) that the hand gesture is a secret sign indicating that the gentleman is a Marrano---a crypto--Jew who accepted Christian baptism in order to remain in Spain after the Catholic Kings' order of 1492 that all Jews leave Spain; and 2) that the gesture indicates a Loyolan/ Jesuit spirituality that calls for the sinner to place his/her hand on their chest after committing a sin as a sign of moral pain. Both of these theories have been discussed at length in academic circles without, however, formal acceptance of either, though at least one academic allows that the hand "assumes the function of an important communication, a personal avowal."6

El Greco

El Greco's personal history is important to the issue here. Doménikos Theotokópoulos was born around 1541 on the island of Crete which had been under Venetian control since the year 1204. At about the age of twenty, already a painter of religious icons, he left Crete to further his art studies in Venice where many of his Cretan compatriots dedicated themselves to painting the madonneri, becoming painters of the Madonna in imitation of St. Luke.7 We can safely assume, judging from his Orthodox cultural background and early paintings, that he was already quite adept at painting religious figures and icons. From Venice he moved to Rome (ca. 1570) where his painting style vastly improved, thanks to the influence of Italian masters such as Tiziano and Tintoretto. Because of the Italians' difficulty in pronouncing his Greek proper name, he came to be known simply as "Il Greco"--the Greek. Leaving Rome and Italy for unknown (but dubious) reasons, Il Greco came to Madrid where the Italian definite article "Il" was changed to "El," hence "El Greco." It was in Spain in the latter half of the 16th century, during the reign of Felipe II (who raised Spain to its zenith in art, geo-political influence, and religious fervor), that El Greco developed into the greatest mannerist painter. He lived and painted in Toledo, the capital of Catholic Spain from 1085 to 1561, the See of the Spanish Roman Catholic Church, and the former religious center of Sepharda, Jewish Spain. Toledo was also the financial capital of the Empire in which the Jews thrived (in a relative sense) under the protection of the financially weak kings until 1492 when they were expelled en masse from Spain. El Greco himself was a Catholic--Eastern Orthodox by birth and tradition and Roman by necessity, if not by desire. It was the time of the Reformation and the Inquisition: the northern Mediterranean Catholic countries were at war with the other European powers that denied the authority of the Church, the leadership of the Pope, and the quasi-deification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In this age El Greco painted his religion: Annunciations, the birth of Jesus, the Holy Family, Crucifixions, Resurrections, Ascensions, and literally hundreds of apostles and Christian saints. Very rarely did he ever stray to paint in the secular field, save for portraits and a few incidental commissions. Even these were touched with a religious mysticism, the kind exemplified by the two most famous Catholic mystics of the time, Teresa de Jess and Juan de la Cruz.

Crypto-Jewish secret

The first hypothesis proposes that the hand gesture is a type of Jewish secret sign that was used among the crypto-Jews (i.e., false Christians) of 16th century Toledo to recognize each other, much like a secret masonic handshake. This meaning of the hand of El Greco's caballero is elaborated by Ralph Oppenhejm in his book Spain in the looking-glass (1956):

... But there may be an invisible key in the hands of his sitters--those speaking hands, which sign an El Greco painting more explicitly than his own name. That curiously precious gesture, at whose odd beauty one is continually starting in his portraits, is a gesture borrowed from Jewish ritual. When the Jews--especially the Sephardic Jews--are reading the Amidah, the eighteen prayers, or pronouncing a blessing, they always hold their hands in this curious way. No doubt many of the noblemen immortalized by El Greco were marranos--Christians by compulsion, secretly practising the Jewish faith in which they had grown up. Or was it simply from old habit that sincere New-Catholics spread out their fingers precisely as their forefathers had done, back to the time when they used to stand and pray in the Temple at Jerusalem? Or who can say that this bewitching gesture was not the artist's own patrimony, distributed by his bounty to all comers.8

Difficulties in accepting the theory that the hand gesture may have been a covert sign of identification or a remnant gesture copied from Jewish ritual, used among the secret Jews (the crypto-Jews/false Christians, conversos, and marranos) of Spain, stem from the fact that no such sign is recorded or alluded to in any of the wealth of Sephardic and kabbalistic texts from this period. Art historians have dismissed Oppenhejm's thesis, calling his ideas "hipótesis sin fundamento, pero que forman parte de una conciencia general sobre la raíz oriental, antigua, de Theotocópuli."9 A more caustic version of this denial is also offered: "El sefardita no dejó nada de su concepto de la vida ... ni artisticamente en el pueblo español ... ni en la poesía ni en el arte español."10 Although Oppenhejm's thesis may be rejected on the lack of positive evidence that El Greco was Jewish or that his patrons were Jewish, or despite the fact that he lived in the judería (the old Jewish barrio of Toledo), there is more significant negative evidence indicating that the hand gesture is not Jewish. In only one instance has the gesture of the caballero been used in a specifically Jewish painting, and that in a twentieth-century drawing.11 Its absence in Hebrew literature and history is proof itself. Oppenhejm most likely confuses the specific finger positions in the gestures of the Amidah and the blessing. What he probably refers to historically is the rite of the Priestly Benediction (dukhenen),12 also called the Kohanic Blessing--the ritual blessing prayed over the congregation by a member of the priestly caste of the Kohanim in which "the hands are held touching at the thumbs with the first two fingers of each hand separated from the other two, thus forming a sort of fan."13 The blessing begins with the word "shalom"--"peace," which itself begins with the hebrew letter shin, composed of three vertical strokes and one horizontal stroke below joining them: or . The blessing is pronounced with each of the hands formed into a shin, touching forefingers and thumbs, second and third fingers joined, fourth and fifth fingers joined, with the arms raised over the head, traditionally covered by a shawl. This gesture has been inscribed on Jewish tombstones throughout Europe,14 used for centuries as "cosmic symbols,"15 and even in contemporary society as "an ancient matriarchal sign for strength and power."16 The kohanic blessing has most recently been popularized by the extraterrestial humanoid character "Spock" in the American television series "Star Trek." Leonard Nimoy, the actor who developed and portrayed the half-Homo Sapien, half-Vulcan character 'Spock,' was raised an orthodox Jew. Nimoy states in his autobiography that he adopted the greeting, "Live long and prosper," and its accompanying one-handed "Vulcan salute," from the Kohanic blessing's shin, taken from his orthodox Jewish heritage.17 In the larger realm, there is no letter or religious gesture, Hebrew or otherwise, similar to the splayed hand in El Greco's painting. The caballero's stylized gesture is actually non-existent in the known Hebrew tradition of the 16th century, whereas the gesture of the Kohanic blessing existed for centuries prior to El Greco. Given the lack of graphic corroboration and the similarity of the Kohanic blessing, Oppenhejm's hypothesis should be discounted as a case of mistaken identity.

Jesuit penance

The second hypothesis was first presented by Cassou in his 1934 work, El Greco:

Este gesto, repetido tan a menudo, es el que San Ignacio de Loyola recomienda. ... Mejor que los puños en el mentón o los indices en la sien, este gesto sereno de calma denuncia toda la agitación de la vida interior, al mismo tiempo que la comprime y se impone con una fuerza incontrastable sobre todos los secretos de la conciencia ...18

Antonia Vallentin, in her book (1954) on the life of El Greco, wrote:

This gesture is so uncommon that generations of historians have tried to decipher its meaning. Is it a ritual sign, only intelligible to the initiated? A gesture recommended by St. Ignatius Loyola in his Spiritual Exercises? "This consists, each time one falls into sin, in laying the hand on the breast whilst inciting one's inner self to grief."19

Veronica de Osa later popularized the idea in her novel, The mystic finger symbol of El Greco (1956):

"Who is this gentleman?"
"Nobody--I call the canvas 'The Cavalier with his Hand on his Chest.' To me he is simply, if you will pardon me, the type of Spanish nobleman of our time, a fighting man, and a lover of beautiful women." ...
... But it was the hand that was prominent in the picture. Señor de las Cuevas asked, "The hand does seem strange, with the thumb bent outwards, the exaggerated length of the fingers; why the unnatural pose of the fingers tightly closed, while the other fingers are spread out? Nobody ever holds his hand against his chest in this manner."
Greco was beginning to paint. "I should like Doña Jerónima [Señor de las Cuevas' daughter] to explain this."
"I thought it was a sign of secret understanding?"
"Speak up, daughter, you seem to know a lot of things your father has never heard before."
Said Jerónima, "This gesture is recommended by Ignacio de Loyola in the first of the four notes of his 'Spiritual Exercises.' One hand is placed against the chest each time a sin is committed, and thus we symbolize that there is suffering in the heart."
"It is as Doña Jerónima says. In my youth some of the basic teachings of the Jesuits were brought to my knowledge. Later, in Rome, I studied Ignacio de Loyola's 'Spiritual Exercises.' At that time, Rome was strongly influenced by his teaching, quite the contrary to Venetian fashion, where gaiety was the rule."20

There has been no official response to this hypothesis in the academic literature regarding El Greco, yet this second theory is far more general and ambiguous in its language and application. It is, however, as wanting of proof as the first. There are four major problems to confront before accepting the Loyolan theory for this gesture. First, approximately thirty years separated the publication of the "Spiritual exercises," published by Iñigo de Oñaz y Loyola/Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus/ Jesuit order in 1548, and the painting of "El caballero de la mano al pecho," painted by Doménikos Theotokópoulos/El Greco around the year 1578. El Greco's library is still extant and does not contain a copy of Loyola's "Spiritual exercises," which would likely exist if indeed it exerted such a great influence on El Greco's work.
Second is the fact that Loyola fails to specify the posture of the fingers in his book: it is simply to "place his hand upon his breast."21 This same gesture as specified by the "Spiritual exercises" is referred to in the 1771 diary of the early American protestant minister, the Reverend Ezra Stiles, who described himself in the portrait as posed "in a Teaching Attitude, with the right hand on the Breast."22 Loyola's "hand on the breast" is by far too general of a description to use in explaining the particular gesture used by El Greco. Thirdly, none of the above works quote the source in toto; all three leave off the final line of the paragraph in which Loyola further states that this gesture of penance can be done "even in the presence of many others without their perceiving what he is doing,"23 correlating with Jesus' commandment in Matthew 6:1, "Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven."24 It would seem that painting a gentleman in such a flagrant act of penitential piety would ill-behoove the "mystic" practitioner of the Exercises in his attempt at attaining spiritual salvation. Jesus' statement, with Loyola's later personal confirmation of the same pietistic principle, would seem to prohibit the outward display of the act of penance in a painting. If the gesture was so defined and acknowledged by such a wide body of believers in Spain as the Jesuits, its public display would run counter to Loyola's dictates. It is thus more improbable that the caballero's gesture is that of Loyolan penance.
And finally, the Jesuit foundation of the gesture of the caballero would most probably have a universal application within the artwork of El Greco that would carry the same theological sense or feeling throughout its usage. The painter, however, used the hand symbol in numerous paintings almost exclusively with Jesus, Mary, and the saints (see below). The caballero, a mortal man, however, was born a sinner and, by definition as a human being, remained a sinner throughout his life. In the Judeo-Christian tradition humanity sins, not God. In Christianity Jesus, being God himself incarnated, could not and did not sin, and Mary, the virgin Mother of God (Theotokos: God-bearer) is said to have been free from all sin (including original sin) herself. Thus, any hand sign used to symbolize suffering and regret of sin would not be properly used among the non-sinning deities. Whereas there are many symbols of godhood used among the mortal followers of the faith, the Christ Jesus never assumed the most basic human condition of sin. It could be argued that in the paintings of El Greco Jesus and Mary use the caballero's gesture in empathy for the sinning mortals. Both would then be communicating, in effect, that they also feel the pain that sin creates in the hearts of men and women--a rare phenomenon of deities empathizing with humankind's worst quality. Loyola's "hand" is by far too broad a category under which to cover the caballero's and others' distinctive gesture.

Other speculations

Further speculations as to the meaning of the caballero's hand offer vaguer, more nebulous interpretations resulting in further and ultimate mystification rather than a set of ideas based on any coherent methodology. In this manner the gesture used by El Greco in his painting becomes trivialized and relegated to the status of an unknowable psychological factor, open to any and all interpretations. Because of the lack of evidence in this case, art historians have couched their speculations of the hand's symbolic meaning in arcane and metaphysical terms: "a sign of secret understanding,"25 "as if to affirm some fact of great importance, holding his heart as witness to some oath,"26 "indicates subjugation of the body to the will of Another,"27 "some ritual sign ...[of] a man surrendering and guarding his soul at the same time, this gesture of possession of himself and also of dialogue, ... a certain fashion of aristocracy,"28 "a picturesque recourse for chromatic contrasts expressing 'an exaltation of the I (ego),'"29 a "serene gesture of calm [that] denounces all the agitation of the interior life ... as if this were something that could be communicated with the hand,"30 "accentuates the spiritual meaning of the image [which] reflects the atmosphere of fanatical religious zeal in his [El Greco's] adopted country,"31--all ethereal and psychological attempts at an explanation, none of which offer any direction to a historical study of the gesture outside of the context of El Greco's paintings.

Having examined the "interpretations offered by specialists and laymen" for the reason and meaning of the hand in El Greco's painting of "El caballero de la mano al pecho," the hypotheses proposed are found to be wanting in substantiating evidence that would materially link the gesture with a culture or body of literature. The main problem lies in the art historian's narrow view of the phenomenon, which was limited to the single painting of El Greco. It is now time to examine the "external form and observable characteristics" in order to begin the examination of the gesture in a broader historical perspective.

External form and observable characteristics of the gesture

We can now acknowledge that the gesture of "El caballero de la mano al pecho" by El Greco cannot be analyzed within the hermetic restrictions of painting and painter: the fields of investigation must be broadened to examine the incidence and appearance of the gesture in other areas, from other times, from different cultures.


The gentleman in "El caballero de la mano al pecho" is most often understood to be a normally developed human being. The apparent asymmetry of the caballero's sloping left shoulder, coupled with the location of his sword high up on his waist, might indicate an injury or a possible malformation of the shoulder and back. These two variances from the normal human phenotype have led Angulo Iñiguez to assert "that the man's left hand is missing and the left shoulder is much lower than the right due to a deformity at birth rather than to an injury sustained in battle."32 Given this theory it may not be overly presumptuous to postulate that the same congenital deformity that may have caused the asymmetrical shoulders may also have been connected with a genetic deformation of the caballero's hand. From this possibility it is then a logical progression to inquire whether the hand itself may have been a physical anomaly. In medical terms the hand appears to be a perfect specimen of zygodactyly, the most common and mildest syndactylous malformation in which the third and fourth fingers are fused or webbed together. Syndactyly refers in general to the digital malformation in which fingers or toes grow together, joined by soft tissue33 with an incidence of approximately one per 3000 births in the male population.34 "Zygodactylism"--a word composed from the Greek roots zugon: 'yoke' or 'joining,' as in a "zygote" (a fertilized egg composed of ovum and sperm cells), and daktulos: 'digit,' as in finger or toe--refers to a form of syndactylism (sun-: 'with,' 'together') the digital malformation of the hand or foot caused by genetic mutation.

Fig. 2. Zygodactyly35

Drawings and photographs of the true zygodactylous hand closely resemble the hand of the caballero in El Greco's painting. If, like his shoulders and the location of his sword, the caballero's gesture was unique, a strong case could be made for the theory that the artist painted the portrait of an unfortunate Spanish nobleman born with two apparent congenital birth defects, the zygodactylous hand being the more obvious. That people with physical abnormalities were not uncommon subjects of the epoch's painters can be testified to by the well-known paintings of Velázquez who painted, among other subjects, "The bearded woman" and a number of the royal court's dwarfs. Along with other proposed explanations for the gesture's existence, however, the hypothesis that the gesture is physiological, not symbolic, the result of a malformation of the gentleman's hand, has no evidence to support it. The asymetric shoulder is easily explained as a stylistic perspective through comparison with El Greco's other portraits of Spanish gentlemen.36 But more significantly the gentleman's hand, when compared with the opus of El Greco, is not unique, much less rare. In more than twenty other paintings by El Greco this same gesture of the splayed hand with the third and fourth digits joined, is easily recognized and shared by a cast of characters including Jesus, Mary, his mother, Mary Magdalene, Saint John, Saint Ildefonso, Saint Dominic, Saint Francis of Assisi, an angel, and a toledan priest.37 It could hardly be argued that all of these figures shared the same congenital defect with the caballero and neither should it be accepted that the gentleman's hand gesture is a special case of zygodactylism from which it multiplied into use in other paintings of El Greco. Whichever painting by El Greco was the first to incorporate this stylized gesture, it nonetheless post-dated the painting entitled "Temptation of Christ"38 (1540-45) by his Venetian teacher, Tiziano, by some thirty years, and came more than fifty years after the same gesture's use in native Spanish painting such as that of Yáñez de Almedina in his "La Anunciación."39 Hence all factors point to the conclusion that this gesture is symbolic, not natural, and used as a means of artistic expression. (In addition to European art, sources from the East and South have also been researched in order to find any possible connection among ritualized or symbolic hand signs between the Eastern and Western hemispheres. The different mudras of northern and southern Buddhism offer an elaborate encyclopedia of hand signs,40 but none resemble the splayed hand with the third and fourth digits joined together. Likewise other non-Western and non-Buddhist cultures have established secular and religious hand signs, but neither do any of these resemble--even vaguely--the caballero's hand.)


This specific hand gesture has been identified as a distinct form of gesture found within Western art and should be given its own proper name to fit within the nomenclature of gestures. The previous introduction of the term "zygodactylism" offers us a more precise nom de plume for the gesture that will allow us to identify it specifically, apart from the general description of "the caballero's hand" or "the splayed hand." We shall from here on refer to the gesture portrayed in the painting "El caballero de la mano al pecho" by El Greco, i.e., the splayed hand with the third and fourth fingers joined together, as the "pseudo-zygodactylous gesture"--"pseudo-" for false, indicating that the gesture resembles zygodactylism but only superficially. For ease in reading the abbreviation "p/z" shall also be used; fingers also shall be referred to being numbered consecutively, beginning with the thumb as the first finger, index as second, and so on. Thus the classical p/z gesture of this study will be defined in full as: first finger (thumb) splayed outwards, second finger ('index') splayed, the third and fourth fingers (middle and 'ring') held tightly together, and the fifth finger ('little') splayed away from the fourth. Distance of the first two fingers from the joined third and fourth fingers is necessary for this definition, with some laxity (as we shall see later) given to the fifth finger's distance from the latter two. The appearance of the pseudo-zygodactylous gesture can also occur naturally in society without a symbolic reference while the hand is at rest, or in art as a conscious or unconscious foreshortening or lessening of the fingers' normal spread.41 Naturally occurring p/z gestures are innately the result of an individual's particular muscular development in the hand, caused by the normal tension of the adducting interosseous muscles of the fourth finger which draw it inwards toward the third, middle finger.42 Examples of this arbitrary form of pseudo-zygodactylism are not uncommon43 but do not relate to the topic here.

Broader incidence and context of the gesture

Having described the pseudo-zygodactylous gesture as a natural physiological phenomenon, and acknowledging the possibilities of its occurrence in art, we can move on to examine the inidence of the p/z gesture in a broader historical context. Within the work of El Greco alone the pseudo-zygodactylous gesture occurs frequently, favoring the use of the right hand alone in two-thirds of his paintings. The p/z hand is almost always placed on the center of the chest, save for "Christ bearing the cross" in which both hands, splayed in the p/z fashion, embrace (rather than carry or support) the cross. Even then, the right hand is chest level and not far from its common mark of the center chest. In El Greco's paintings of the Virgin Mary, however, the hand is generally--and curiously--off-center. Whereas her hand may be adrift in a vague posture, it is splayed, as are the hands of the other figures who have the p/z hand on their chests. In only one of his paintings, "The Holy Family," does the Virgin Mary have her hand centrally placed on her chest. Here she is breast-feeding the baby Jesus who himself holds his mother's fingers of the p/z gesture. Up to this point art historians have approached the work of El Greco in hopes of finding the enigmatic meaning of the hand gesture and have formed broad theories regarding its application. It has not yet been asked why no other painter depicted crypto-Jews or the Loyolan gesture of penance. The past investigation has taken place in a vacuum of history, and we must break with this vacuum to examine sources farther afield that will lead us toward another path of interpretation. El Greco was a painter of religious images and used the gesture in so many of his religious paintings that one might begin to suspect that the p/z gesture may have broader religious meaning; thus the fields of religious artwork need to be examined systematically. El Greco's painting "El caballero de la mano al pecho" is displayed in the Prado Museum in Madrid, Spain. The art collection of the Prado is itself a vast and elementary resource to use in order to begin a cursory search for the pseudo-zygodactylous gesture outside of the El Greco collection. There are six paintings in the Prado, including the "Caballero de la mano al pecho," whose figures employ the p/z gesture: 1. Mary nursing Jesus in "Rest on the escape to Egypt" by Gerard David (1450-1523); 2. Mary squirting milk to the souls in purgatory in "La Madona del sufragio" or "La maternidad espiritual de María" or "La Virgen dando su leche a las almas del purgatorio" by Pedro Machuca (1517);44 3. an unknown Spanish gentleman, "El caballero de la mano al pecho" by El Greco (ca. 1578) 4. Juno holding her breast for Hercules in "The birth of the Milky Way" by Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640); 5. Mary with her hand to her breast before Jesus in "María, intercesora ante el Hijo" by Mateo Cerezo († 1666);45 and 6. Bernard receiving milk from the Virgin Mary in "La visión de San Bernardo" by Bartolomé Murillo, (1665-75).46

The first two paintings were created before El Greco was born in 1541, one by a dutch painter and one by a Spaniard from Toledo. Five of the six depict explicitly religious scenes and all of these five have some proximal relation to a woman's breast. Of these five, all offer an overt, almost blatant display of the woman's breast: four in which the woman is pressing or touching her breast with the pseudo-zygodactylous gesture, four in which the woman is holding her exposed breast for nursing (lactation), four in which the Virgin Mary is an active primary or secondary figure, one in which Juno is the primary figure, and one in which a male saint uses the p/z gesture on his chest as he receives Mary's breast-milk. Only one of these six paintings--all of which use the pseudo-zygodactylous gesture--that of the caballero, has no action, no woman, no breast, no milk, and nobody else in the picture.

Preliminary hypothesis

In addition to their stylistic differences regarding the gesture, five of the six paintings share the primary theme of lactation in which breast-milk is transferred from a goddess to an immature god or adult human male, which also presupposes the overt display of the breast, or ostentatio mammarum. From this small arbitrary sampling an introductory hypothesis is proposed regarding the significance of the p/z gesture, that is: that the pseudo-zygodactylous gesture is a religious symbol signifying the giving--or requesting--of spiritual life as salvation or immortality used by males and females alike, based on the maternal relationship of mother and child in which the display of the breast and giving of breast-milk by the mother goddess means the gift of physical and metaphysical life to her child/ children. It will therefore be argued that the pseudo-zygodactylous gesture plays a significant role as a mode of communication in the hierarchical relationships within religious economies of spiritual salvation. From the above arbitrary sampling of paintings, further subdivisions of the general theme of lactation can be made by: (a) type of contact, e.g,, breast/mouth, breast/hand, direct (body-body)/indirect (body-space-body), (b) the receiver of milk, (c) purpose of lactation, and (d) number of individuals involved in the encounter.

Such a description of the lactation paintings by these subdivisions provides us with a better structural view of the paintings: 1. direct (nipple to mouth) mother goddess to god-child nursing (maternal dyad) for physical nourishment; 2. indirect (milk projected from breast through space to mouth/s) goddess to adult humans (multiple/communal dyad) for relief of their pain or to gain their salvation; 3. direct/indirect goddess to unrelated human child nursing in order to make the child immortal and thereby into a god, and to spiritually adopt the child (spiritual dyad);47 4. no contact, no milk expressed (no lactation) by the goddess who uses the gesture placed to her breast (exposed/unexposed) to intercede between a higher god and (the) human being/s to request life and salvation (triad); and 5. indirect contact between goddess and a holy adult human male (saint) as a blessing, as symbolic adoption, and as an affirmation of the male's sanctity (spiritual dyad).

Because the painting of the caballero has no lactation theme visible, an additional category after the others shall be assigned to it in order to qualify and open the search for the gesture outside of explicit lactation and in order to test the gestures that may appear against the relationship to lactation. Subdivisions of this theme of 'salvation gesture' will be: (a) gender of gesturer, (b) god/dess, 'saint'/demigod, or mortal (c) location and manner of placement of gesture to body (e.g., on chest, outwards to the side, etc.), (c) purpose of gesture, and (d) relationship to other individuals in the scene. Thus,

6. pseudo-zygodactylous gesture, no lactation, no direct or indirect physical contact, and usually no other person present.

To test this hypothesis we shall examine relevant material relating to the physical and metaphysical aspects of breast-feeding, breast-milk, and breasts in both secular and religious literature and art. Images of lactation, the breast, and the pseudo-zygodactylous gesture in general will be examined for the manner of use of the p/z gesture and then juxtaposed alongside the subdivisions given above in order to determine whether, and if so, how, there is a corresponding relationship between the pseudo-zygodactylous gesture, lactation, and metaphysical life.

Regarding religion and myth

As demonstrated in the Prado sampling above, the p/z gesture may also be found in paintings commonly regarded as "mythological" as opposed to "religious." This distinction is made to separate the socially-accepted religious myth, called "religion," from the old, rejected religious myths of time gone by. The purpose of this paper is to examine the historical spectrum of religion for information relating the pseudo-zygodactylous gesture to breast-feeding and, as such, will attempt to maintain a respect to all cultures reviewed, regarding all religious literature and belief equally as myth. Thus the current cultural distinctions between Christian "saint" and the pagan "demigod," as well as between pagan "goddess" and Christian "mother of God" will not be respected in this essay when needed for comparison. This will necessitate referring to both Juno and the Virgin Mary alike as goddesses, and to Jesus and Hercules as gods. The acronyms "bce" and "ce," "before the common era" and "common era" respectively, will be used to symbolically provide an impartial description of events, still according to Western dating, in an attempt to define time apart from First World Christianity.

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

Pre-Indo-European Europe:

The pre-Indo-European cultures of Europe offer the distinction from other imagery in that it is generally agreed to have a greater feminine aspect than the Europe after the invasion of the patriarchal Indo-Europeans.48 Images of the female nursing are not common and are found primarily throughout the eastern European archaeological sites as distinct figurines that do not compose a class in and of themselves. Female figurines in the attitude of nursing from neolithic and pre-Indo-European times offer the most basic maternal gesture, that of cradling the child while it nurses at the mother's breast. The hand is not placed to the breast nor is there a distinction between the fingers except for the basic incisions or lines used to distinguish the digits. Some scholars have referred to these female figurines as 'goddesses'49 but given the lack of textual evidence to corroborate this view, there can be no final decision. Most scholars do agree, however, that these images relate to the procreative, nurturing ability of women in general, which may have magical or religious significance.50 The breast, in these images, serves to distinguish and qualify the figurine as female, as seen in the paleolithic images of the so-called 'Venus' figurines.51 Other metaphysical qualities attributed to these images are the subject of much interpretation, primarily focused on the feminine image as a fertility symbol.52 In this age of female nursing figurines the woman can be said to play the major role in the encounter between mother and child, so much that it often seems that the child is a mere appendage added to the adult woman to verify her sex and her maternity.

Gradac, central Yugoslavia, from the classical Vinca site: As with nearly all paleolithic and neolithic images, this headless 'Madonna'53 is a figurine, sculpted in terracotta, of a female figure holding an infant as it nurses at her breast. 5000-4000 bce It is headless and seated, like another nursing pair from the Dimini period at Sesklo near Volos, Thessaly in eastern Greece, dating from approximately 4000 bce.54 Sardinia: seated robed woman with upstretched right hand, holding a child two-thirds her size on her lap. His left hand covers her right breast, with her left breast at his chin. Prehistoric.55

the Ancient Near East:

the Hittites, Sumeria, Ur, Warka/Uruk, Ugarit, Hebrews As with the pre-Indo-European nursing images, the Near East offers the same common type of nursing posture, i.e., woman cradling the child as it nurses. Here in the ancient Near East, however, the image begins to distinguish itself from nursing babies to nursing boys and grown men; from the mundane physical feeding of an immature non-gender-specific infant to the sacral metaphysical nourishment of princes and kings. One major deviance is noted in the Hittite culture in an orthostat relief carved in basalt from Karatepe/anatolian of a woman standing by a palm tree, well dressed with a cap on her head, nursing a young boy who stands at her side as she clasps his back with her right arm and holds her right breast with her left hand, ca. 700 bce.56 This is the earliest example in the Near East of a woman placing her hand to her breast directly to offer or guide it to the child's mouth. It is also the first example of an older child, two-thirds her height, nursing as it stands by her side. This could be a depiction of the young prince nursed by his mother, the queen, or an analogy of the goddess nursing the sacred king-to-be. In addition to breast-feeding and nurturing images of the female, in Mesopotamia we first see the breast used as an overt sexual symbol as a woman offers her adult male bed-partner her breast.57 Significant to both the pre-Indo-European period to the north and to the cultures of the ancient Near East is the preeminent role that the female mother figure plays in relation to the child which she is nursing. As time moves on, in Egypt and in Europe, the infant becomes more and more the central focus in the nursing dyad. This is evidenced by the coming of written language and the literature that it created, especially in the ancient Near East, with primary characters such as Inanna and Ishtar.


Snake-headed figurine made from terracotta of a standing woman holding her nursing infant as it clasps her breast. Obeid epoch, 4000-3500 bce58 Neo-Sumerian: a sculpted plaque of a dressed mother figurine standing as she nurses her child, also made of terracotta around 2150 bce.59 Hittite: Bronze statue from Horoztepe of a wide-eyed woman standing, holding her child in both arms to her breast as it nurses. ca. 2000 bce, predating the beginnings of the ancient Hittite empire, about the time of the Egyptian Middle Empire ( XI dynasty).60 Hittite: Bronze statue of a nude woman, with headdress and ankle bracelets, standing on the back of a small lion, holding a nursing child to her right breast, ca. 1500 bce.61 Proto-Iranian: from a necropolis in Hurvin, 80 kilometers northwest of Teheran, dating from around 850-750 bce, this standing figurine in terracotta appears more bear-like than human. It has short arms which do not support the armless infant fastened to her right breast.62


Fragment of a terracotta statue of an enthroned woman nursing a misshapen child, from Tyr, southern Lebanon, ca. 325 bce. The prototype is said to have appeared on the cylinder of Khay-Tou in Byblos at the beginning of the third millennium, reappearing in the 13th and 4th centuries. 63


Isis, Hathor, et al. In Egypt the nursing goddess rises to its first great height in art, religion, and literature for a period over 2500 years.64 Two separate goddesses, Hathor and Isis (who later often are merged into one being), are depicted most frequently as nursing Isis' son, Horus (Harpokrates in Greek), and the incumbent pharaoh. Both Hathor, the cow goddess, and Isis, sister-wife of Osiris and mother of Horus, began in antiquity as separate local goddesses, limited to their geographical district of origin: Isis of the Nile delta, and Hathor of Momenphis65 and Byblos.66 As Egypt grew, and as the influence of the pharaohs in the Upper and Lower kingdoms increased with commercial and military travel, the goddesses were transposed to other areas and became the primary females in the Egyptian pantheon. With the syncretism of centuries, Hathor became identified with Isis, as Isis with Hathor, culminating in Isis wearing the cow horns and sun disc of Hathor, adding her hieroglyphic name, Isis qua throne, on top. The artwork dedicated to the image of Hathor nursing portrays her in three incarnations: as full cow, as half-cow, half-woman, and as full woman. As a cow Hathor nurses the boy Horus, posthumous son of Osiris and Isis, on his knees sucking her udder,67 the queen Hatchepsut (ca. 1490-68 bce) who sucks on Hathor's udder,68 and later nurses Hatchepsut's grandson, the king Amenhotep (ca. 1440 bce), depicted as sucking on Hathor's udder in a statue-drawing.69 Hathor as half-woman nurses the infant Horus in a kneeling posture, proffering her left breast with her right hand as Horus himself places his inside hand on her proffering arm. Hathor is also seen as a human goddess in the same source (birth house [mammisi] of Dendera) nursing Horus as half-cow goddess, sitting on a throne, almost indistinguishable from Isis.70

< Isis nursing Horus (the pharaoh) (fig. 3)71 in literally thousands of extant statues, steles, and drawings: sitting for the infant, as is the most common, or standing for the rarer boy or adult male.72 In the traditional form Isis sits on a plain throne that is her namesake with her left hand on the infant Horus' back for support, proffering her left breast to the child. Horus is not usually placed on or at Isis' nipple or breast but is generally a little distant, offering the viewer the focus on Isis's breast more than on Horus nursing at the breast. In many of the images of Isis and Horus found in the official tombs and monuments dedicated to the deceased pharaoh, Horus symbolically represents the dead king himself who nurses at the breast of Isis in order to gain the afterlife.73

The portrayal of Isis in the Egyptian style changed drastically as the Greek Ptolemaic empire (323-30 bce) adopted and exported the Isis cult to the Mediterranean world, to Greece, Rome, France, Germany, and as far as Poland, Spain, and Mesopotamia. Isis became rounder, more in keeping with the classical renderings of the Greeks and Romans. Her hairstyle became northern Mediterranean, as did her throne, her clothing, and her child, so much that the Europeanized Isis becomes only a distant replica of her Egyptian ancestor of the Nile. In one such mural painting from the third century ce74 Isis is indistinguishable from a Greek matron of the time, identifiable only by the gesture of the child that she holds, i.e., the traditional index finger to the mouth or cheek that identifies Horus, or Harpokrates as he is now known in the 'Mysteries of Isis.' Greek and Roman statues of Isis and Horus have even been known to have been worshipped as images of the Virgin Mary and her child Jesus up through the 15th century of the common era. Apart from the goddess imagery, depictions of a woman nursing a child in more mundane circumstances exist showing: a sculpted scene of a woman having her hair combed or plaited by another as she nurses an infant on the floor,75 a pharmaceutical pot in the shape of a woman clasping her right breast with her right hand to nurse her child,76 a drawing of a noble woman nursing on a chair, attended by another.77
Other goddesses depicted suckling the divine infant Horus or king are:
an unidentified ram-headed goddess wearing the Hathor headdress, with the tail of Selkit, the scorpion goddess;78
Anoukhet ('Anuqet), a goddess of the South, patroness of the region of the cataracts of the Nile, nurse of a king, giving her breast to the adult Ramses II (1298-32 bce);79
the asp-headed Rannu/Rennut, lady of Aat, who was called a divine nurse of princes,80 and the goddess Toueris, the hippopotamus goddess, in the shape of a bottle, whose left breast is horizontal, with a hole in the nipple;81
Mersekert suckling the young man Horus dressed as pharaoh;82 and Isis herself also appears once as a holy tree with a breast in its branches, nursing the king, found in the grave of Tuthmosis (Thutmosis) III,83 father of Amenhotep II and son of Hatchepsut, both also depicted as nursing from Hathor/Isis. Hathor's posture is dictated by the image she takes, cow or human. As a cow she stands on four feet, oblivious to the nurser. As a human she kneels. Her nursers, usually male except in the case of the queen Hatchepsut, are confined to the postures of kneeling at her udder or, as Horus, sitting in her lap. Isis' posture varies little, limited to sitting on the ground in the mideastern style, sitting on a throne, or standing. The nurser, always male, is either sitting in her lap as a child or standing next to her as a boy, young man, or adult. Common to all images of the human-figured goddess or anthropomorphic animal goddess of Egypt is the manner in which the breast is held, i.e., held by the hand under the breast with the thumb above the nipple like a cup. The only variations in this style are limited to the placement of the thumb, either closer or farther from the other fingers.


Maya, Yashoda, Putana, Hariti, Nayika Maya: the Hindu goddess, "represented pressing her breasts, whence flow those copious streams of milk by which all living creatures are nourished and supported."84
Hariti: passive, no gestures to the breast.85
Yashoda: "Krishna at Jasoda's breast;"86 also "Yashoda suckling Krishna" passive, Krishna has both hands on her breast--Krishna suckling at Yashoda's breast,87 woman attending her to the side. Yashoda nursing Krishna, p/z gesture on side of nipple.88

Putana: passive, Krishna has both hands on her breast--Krishna suckling at Putana's breast89; stone sculpture, 8th century--Putana with both hands abover her head as Krishna sucks the life out of her.90
Nayika: "Nayika nursing infant," passive, no gestures to the breast.91

Far East Asia:

Kuan Yin
Sri Lanka (Sérinde): Hariti cupping her right breast in her left hand, sitting on a low frame stool, with eight little boy figures playing in the air about her.92 Thailand: maternity dolls, height: 10-11.5 cm., woman sitting on ground, child in left arm at left breast, right hand to left breast.93
Japan: Yama Uba nursing Kintoki,94 little boy sucking on the right breast while tweaking the nipple of her left breast. We see only her right hand lying on his shoulder; passive.
China: Kuan Yin, the Chinese goddess of mercy, often mistaken by Western people as the Virgin Mary. Hariti nursing an infant.95 Right hand on child's left arm; no contact with breast.

Indo-European Europe:

Etruria and Greece < Etruria: An adoption scene on the back of an Etruscan ivory mirror of Hera (Juno) enthroned nursing the adult man Herakles (Hercules) at her breast, and others observing (fig. 4). 96 Greece: from the necropolis of Megara Hyblæa, a so-called mother goddess, enthroned and headless, nursing two infants in swaddling clothes, dating from around 580-525 bce.97 Eriphyle nursing the baby Alcmeon in the presence of Amphiareus and Demo.98 Diana of Ephesus: the breasted-one, with rows upon rows of breasts indicating her abundant and overflowing fertility. Aphrodite: mentioned for her cupped breast gesture (left hand to left breast)--here a sexual gesture.99

the Americas:

Hatlatlaqualilztli: naked human figure suspended sideways in the air, sucking on the goddess Hatlatlaqualilztli's breast, never touching.100 Chalchihuitlicue, the water goddess101


Oya, mother goddess of the Niger, standing with her arms embracing two children who are also standing in front of her, mouths sucking and drawing out her taut breasts.102


God the Mother has a long and involved history that has been carried over into and greatly influenced modern religious practices. Known also as the Great Mother (Magna Mater) in the Latin-speaking world, she evolved into distinct entities with the different cultures. Her main role was as a benefactor and intercessor for humanity. Almost always she was coupled to a male god who, for fear of his anger, judgment, and wrath, was viewed as unapproachable by human beings. A prime example of this is the cult of Isis, one of the most important goddesses of ancient Egypt and of the whole Mediterranean basin. Her name is the Greek form of the hieroglyph that stands for 'throne,' a feminine noun, and also represents 'queen.' In ancient Egypt the royal inheritance was matrilineal--from mother to daughter. Thus the man who married the queen became the king. Later (ca. 1000 bce) as her cult took form, she became the wife of her brother Osiris and by him had a son named Horus. Through her care and shelter of her son she became the goddess of protection, and both became known as the perfect mother and son. Her chief aspect, however, was that of a great enchantress whose power transcended that of all other deities. Isis protected the dead in particular and until the coming of Christianity was the most popular goddess in Egypt and surroundings. As such her fame spread to the Greeks and through them around the Mediterranean basin. Her role as mother developed into a more important aspect, for motherhood was one of the functions of all the great goddesses and she herself was a life-giver. As mother, Isis was primarily represented in the maternal attitude of breast-feeding Horus, her child, on her lap. Temples to her were established throughout Europe as Egypt came under Roman rule, and it was Rome itself that became the new center of her worship. At this period of romanized Egypt, Christianity was introduced and developed alongside of the older established religions. The naturalistic type of art carried away many of the stylized conventions of the past and it is now difficult to distinguish between pagan and Christian figures of the mother and child. This assimilation of the Christian mother Mary from the pagan mother goddess Isis is noted in a variety of sources: "the remarkable resemblance between this conception [of Isis suckling Horus] of the kourotrophos103 and that of the Madonna and Child in the art of the Italian Renascence,"104 "l'image intime et vivante d'Isis avec l'enfant Harpocrate [Horus] devrait tre considerée comme prototype de la Madone avec l'enfant Jesus."105 This, then, is the stepping stone between ancient and modern religions: the assimilation of a 'pagan' goddess with child into a Christian goddess with child: "Isis comme le grand percurseur de la Madone ... une continuite du culte d'Isis celui de la Vierge Marie; ... la resseamblance entre Isis lactans et Maria lactans est a la fois inconographique et theologique."106

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

In Christianity, the breast-feeding goddess type rises to its greatest height and breadth, evolving from what has been many times asserted to be a simple copy of the Isis-Horus dyad into a goddess with an identifiable nursing theology. Devotional Christian nursing imagery focuses exclusively on the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus, with only one minor exception. Outside of the Christian cult proper, however, as the centuries brought on a new humanism, artists gave the goddess nursing imagery a broader context that reached back into the mythic 'pagan' past and into the post-Christian future. The Virgin Mary was not a goddess in early Christianity. It was only through the prevalence of the so-called 'pagan' goddess worship and the continued necessity of a human mediator before the Godhead that Mary was elevated to a hierarchical position in Christian doctrine just below the Trinity and given the title Theotokos--Bearer of God, used also today in the Orthodox Christian traditions. Mary was referred to as Theotokos by Origen (ca. 185-254) and others after him, but it was after the controversy about the theological significance of this title that the Christian Church in 431 ce at the Council of Ephesus officially declared the title, and Mary's position as mother of God, to be orthodox teaching. This only served to refortify the growing cult of Mary and support her unprecedented adulation (called 'Mariolatry') which was centered in the eastern Mediterranean.

Paleo-Christian art

The first representations of Maria lactans are three Roman images of a woman and child (Mary and Jesus?) found in Christian murals dating from ca. 166-250 ce. 1. Good shepherd, with Isaiah?, tree of Jesse?, and woman and child on right, sideways. Man gesturing towards woman, infant at breast, turns to look at viewer. Woman holding child with both hands.107 2. Woman on backless chair with child at breast; three men to the left bring her gifts.108 3. Half-circle divided between three groups of figures: left: a group of three; center: a woman orante (standing, arms spread wide in a posture of prayer or mediation109); right: a woman in white sitting on a low-back chair with her back to the other figures, turned to look at them, as a child nurses obliviously at her breast.110 Catacomb of Priscilla. The first Christian images known of a woman nursing a child, painted on the ceilings above a tomb in the catacomb of Priscilla in Rome, presumably representing Mary and Jesus, dating from around 225 ce.

Egyptian and Coptic art
The first representation of Mary in Coptic art is a 5th-century funereal engraving (stele-graffito) in limestone from el Fayum in northern Egypt. Mary sits on a round stool with Jesus in her left arm as she holds her breast with her right hand. The image is nearly identical with the Isis lactans image of Egyptian mythology save for the two crosses inscribed, one on each side of her head.111 Similar to this image is a later stele from the Fayum of Mary sitting with two small saints at her side with crosses over their heads. Mary here holds her breast in a cupping gesture identical to that of Isis.112 Two wall paintings of the 7th century in the apses of the monastery of Apa/St. Jeremias at Saqqara in el Fayum, show the Virgin Mary nursing the child. In both paintings Mary, enthroned, offers the child Jesus her right breast with her left hand, as he grasps her right arm with both of his hands, reminiscent of Horus and the Egyptian kings holding the arm of Isis.113 These two paintings provide the first evidence of the pseudo-zygodactylous gesture in Christian art, albeit in a primitive form. In the paintings Mary holds her right breast--an object that appears to be flat--with her second finger on top, thumb splayed away from it, and the remaining fingers below. The fifth finger appears to be held tightly against the fourth, and thus presents us with a deviation from the classic p/z gesture as defined above. Nonetheless, the p/z gesture is here affirmed as a nursing gesture. A 7th-century wall painting in an apse of the St. Apollon monastery, of Christ's assumption into heaven (above), (below) Mary enthroned, nursing Jesus with the twelve apostles present. Hand indistinguishable.114 Illustrated Coptic manuscripts depict Mary enthroned nursing Jesus, with St. John, with two angels, and with the evangelists, from ca. 893-898 ce, Upper Egypt. Mary's hand is on her chest, not touching her breast. Neither is Jesus' mouth to her breast. The breast itself is a caricature, resembling more the top of an unconnected baby's milk bottle than a human breast, connected to a human body.115

The iconoclasm of the Dark Ages (ca. 476-1100 ce)
The image of the lactating goddess disappeared in Europe following the few underground paintings done of the mother and child in the Roman catacombs of the 3rd century.116 The absence of this image may be accredited to the series of iconoclastic movements which took place in Europe after the proclamation of Christianity as the official religion of the emerging Holy Roman Empire (312 ce), over and against the remnants of the so-called pagan practices. Officially the destruction of images (declared to be idols by the Byzantine emperor Leo III) was ordered in 726 and applied primarily to the veneration of icons by the Greek Church. Later in 753, however, the Synod of Hieria, under the emperor Constantine V, declared that all images portraying the Blessed Virgin Mary, the saints, and Jesus, were to be destroyed. This period, referred to as the 'First Iconoclastic Controversy,' ended in 787 by a theological distinction made between the degrees of veneration given to icons. The 'Second Iconoclastic Controversy' began under Emperor Leo V the Armenian in 814 and concluded with the death of Emperor Theophilus in 842. Such destruction of religious images took its toll of the remaining Isis lactans statues that have been said to have been worshipped as the Maria lactans as far into the modern era as 15th century France. Such Christian worship of a "pagan" figure may have served as a motive for the elimination of the Maria lactans from the artists' iconographic lexicon during the Dark Ages. Since the pseudo-zygodactylous gesture to this point was used only in two isolated cases of Mary nursing in 7th century Egypt, and since it did not appear in the early Middle Ages, little or no connection can be made between the Coptic style and the following examples.

The Later Middle Ages, into the Renaissance
Other scholars have described the high incidence in the late Middle Ages of the traditional dyadic types of the Virgin nursing the Child already.117 But it is in this period that the artistic and literary theme of lactation reaches full bloom, with a broadening abstraction of lactation, both in the theological and secular realms, applied to scenes that go far beyond the simple Mother and Child dyadic feeding. Since this period contains the greatest variety of forms of lactation, all of which include the use of the pseudo-zygodactylous gesture, it will be dealt with according to motif in the next chapter.

The Renaissance: Non-Christian motifs and abstractions
The Renaissance experienced a decline in the portrayal of the Maria lactans due to the Council of Trent (1545-1563) which banned the nudity of sacred figures in art.118 What the Renaissance lost in Mary's naked breasts it gained in other goddess' breasts and the broadening of the painters' horizons into archaic mythology. Images using the pseudo-zygodactylous gesture proliferated outside the Mary theme, many but not all within the confines of Christian religious imagery. The roles within the maternal dyad in European art are usually assigned to the Virgin Mother Mary and her son Jesus. There are, however, numerous variants of the dyadic roles outside of maternity, such as Cimon and Pero, father and daughter respectively. Their story, in brief, is that an aged, imprisoned father (Cimon) is being starved to death in prison. He is kept alive by the daily visit of his daughter (Pero) who nurses him secretly.119 She is seen by the jailer one day and, because of her daughterly dedication, wins the release of her father. The story is also known as 'Roman charity.'120 In the examples viewed the daughter has always used the pseudo-zygodactylous gesture to nurse her father. On this same theme is a French painting entitled "Les israélitas recueillant la manne dans le désert" by Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665),121 a detail of which shows a man seated on the ground, supporting himself with his left arm and holding onto the woman from whom he nurses with his right hand on her left shoulder. She holds her right breast with the pseudo-zygodactylous gesture to his mouth as she looks on at a naked distressed young child. The most significant variation brought by the Renaissance is the portrayal of abstract qualities as female deities, including emotions and fields of study. The codification of iconology began with Cesare Ripa who published his Iconologia in 1603 in Rome. In his codification of artistic motifs, the abstract qualities of 'Benignita' (Grace), 'Carita' (Charity), and 'Sostanza' (Sustenance) are anthropomorphized as women and depicted with some relation to lactation: Benignita presses both her covered breasts to awaiting dogs who catch the drops of milk with open mouths; Carita holds a child to her breast while two others around her legs wait their turn; Sostanza presses her naked breasts (the left breast with her left hand in the p/z gesture) to squirt streams of milk as she holds wheat in her left arm and grapes in her right.122 Giarda portrayed 'Sacra Theologia' as a veiled woman wearing a crown, standing with her right foot on a six-headed beast, holding a chalice with a cross in it in her right hand and a scepter in her left hand in the p/z gesture. His three-faced 'Historia' holds a rod in her right hand with the p/z gesture, two keys in her left hand, while standing with her right foot on a globe.123

Chapter IV:
Breast-feeding forms in the Renaissance

Historical and methodological note History has left very little of the art of the ancient world, leaving us few images with limited motifs by which to test our hypothesis. Conversely, as we approach the modern era and the cultural heritage of Christianity, we are provided with an overabundance of examples of both the Virgin nursing the child Jesus and the pseudo-zygodactylous gesture in its various manifestations. Compared to the preceding body of ancient materials, Christianity is a relative cornucopia of breast-feeding images connected with the pseudo-zygodactylous gesture. Because of this plethora of new material the artwork wthat follows will need to be presented in a different manner than above, using an abbreviated form of the six styles of the p/z gesture's occurrence as listed above in the preliminary hypothesis. These abbreviated models of the gesture's use are:

1. Mother & Child (maternal dyad)
2. Virgin & humans/sinners/Relief of pain: (milk projected through space) (multiple/communal dyad)
3. Juno & Hercules/Hera & Herakles/Gift of Immortality/adoption (spiritual dyad)
4. Mediatrix/Intercesora (triad)
5. Blessing/affirmation/adoption (SS Bernard, Augustine), and
6. the pseudo-zygodactlous gesture alone qua religious gesture.

Figure 5. Gerard David (1450-1523), Rest in the escape to Egypt. Museo del Prado, Madrid. postcard

Figure 6. Joos van Cleve (1464-1540), Halte en Exil. Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Bruxelles. postcard

Figure 7. Niederländischer Meister (ca. 1500), The Virgin and Child. Kunstmuseum, Basel. postcard

Figure 8. Gerard David (1450-1523), Virgin con Niño. Museo Lázaro Galdiano, Madrid. postcard

1. Mother and Child (maternal dyad) Beginning in the 12th century the Virgin enthroned nursing Jesus and using the pseudo-zygodactylous gesture is a common occurrence. In the first extant image of the Virgin nursing in Italy, from the faade of S. Maria in Trastevere in Rome, the Virgin copies the gesture used by the Coptic Virgins of the index finger above the nipple and the other three without distinction below.124 This type, however, is not as common as those in which the Virgin allows the Child to nurse on his own without her touching her breast.125 In Shorr's sampling of 14th-century Italian paintings of the lactating Mary only six out of 54 paintings of the nursing Virgin used the pseudo-zygodactylous gesture (11%). However, the Virgin used no gesture to her breast in 40 out of the 54 paintings, sitting passively as Jesus nursed. In the other 14 paintings in which the Virgin touches her breast to nurse the child, six hands are cupped like Isis, six use the pseudo-zygodactylous gesture. In the remaining two paintings the hand is placed on top of the breast or with the second and third fingers above the nipple resembling the Kohanic blessing. This second small and arbitrary sampling provides a further indication that the p/z gesture is suitably equated with the Virgin breast-feeding: 1269 ce "Virgen de la Leche" Spanish;126 the oldest version in Spain of the Maria lactans: the Virgin Mary sits and nurses the baby Jesus, cupping her right breast with her right hand, while holding his head with her left hand splayed in the pseudo-zygodactylous gesture; four archangels surround her as the four emblems of the evangelists mark the corners of the illustration. Early 15th century "Saint Luke painting the Virgin" Rogier van der Weyden (1399?-1464) Flemish;127 Mary nursing the child Jesus with the p/z gesture as Luke looks on and draws. Early 15th century "The Virgin and Child/the Salting Madonna" Robert Campin/ Master of Flémalle;128 Mary with a fire guard behind her head as a halo, pressing her right breast with her right hand in the p/z gesture as Jesus, not nursing, gazes at the viewer. 15th century "Panaghia nursing Jesus Christ" Greek;129 a "miraculous" portable Greek Orthodox icon of the crowned Virgin Mary nursing Jesus ('Galaktotrophusa') ; Mary holds her left breast with her right hand in the classical p/z gesture as Jesus, cradled in her left arm, holds her fifth finger. 1485 "Virgin and Child with the two Saints John" by Botticelli, Italian;130 Mary sitting with the infant Jesus with a Saint John on either side; Jesus looks at the viewer and gestures towards Mary's breast; Mary exposes only the nipple of her left breast, holding it in the classical p/z manner. 1490-95 "Madonna of the pavilion" or "Madonna under a baldachin" by Botticelli, Italian;131 Mary kneels in reading under a pavilion of drapery, and responds to the infant Jesus' want to nurse. She bares her right breast with her left hand in the p/z gesture. Three angels are present: two that open the pavilion's drapes, and one that supports the baby Jesus as he stands and stretches his arms out to his mother. 1496 "The penance of St. John Chrysostom" by Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) German, engraving of a naked woman/princess nursing a child, sitting on an outcropping of rocks; p/z gesture with her left hand to her right breast; John Chrysostom, one of the Four Greek Fathers in the Eastern Church, naked and on all-fours in the background.132 Dürer repeats the gesture in his other works, e.g., "Madonna on a grassy bench" (1516?),133 "Holy kinship with two musical angels" 1511,134 "Madonna on the crescent" 1511,135 "Madonna nursing" 1512;136 even the "Man of Sorrows seated" (the risen Christ with the implements of his death) 1515137 uses the p/z gesture as he places his hand upon his chest. Early 16th century "The Rest on the flight to Egypt" by Gerard David (†1523)Flemish; Mary sits on a rock as she nurses Jesus (who gazes at us while nursing) with the p/z gesture. 1533 "Mary with Child" by Lucas Cranach the Elder (?) Germany; Mary nursing Jesus, holding her right breast with her left hand with the classical p/z gesture. Lucas always uses the p/z gesture, a few with some minor variation.138 Medieval and 16th century Spain: Aznar offers seven illustrations of the Maria lactans in his review of medieval Spanish painting and six illustrations of the Maria lactans in the 16th century.139 Three out of the seven medieval (1390-1500) paintings use the pseudo-zygodactylous gesture in its classical form. The other four nursing Madonnas do not use any gesture, nor do they touch their breast at all. All six of the 16th century paintings portray Mary in the act of nursing using some form of the pseudo-zygodactylous gesture, four of which use it in the orthodox form, one uses it but with the nipple between the thumb and second finger (instead of second and third), while another's gesture has the second finger almost but not quite too close to the third. For roughly the same time period of medieval Spain, van Os studied the images of Mary created by the painters of Sienna from 1300-1450.140 Out of over twenty illustrations showing the Virgin Mary nursing the infant Jesus, not one depicted Mary gesturing in the slightest way towards her breast. All the figures, in fact, showed Mary as the Madonna dell'Umilta --the Madonna of Humility, sitting on the ground or on a floor cushion in the manner of the Mideast.

2. Virgin & humans/sinners/Relief of pain: (milk projected through space) (multiple/communal dyad) Images of Mary's milk projected from her breast through space to humans below is a late composition, said to have originated from Bernard's miracle of lactation and "empowered" by the artists of Sevilla.141 There are very few paintings of this theme, all of which here come from the south and east of Spain. Manuel Trens asserts that this theme of Mary showing her mercy towards her spiritual children is derived from "aquel otro [tema], muy antiguo, ... en que la Virgen implora misericordia al Padre celestial o a su Hijo, con el gesto maternal de presentar sus pechos, como argumento más emocionante y decisivo," calling the mortals' souls "sus hijos, espiritualmente colactáneos de Jess."142

1517 "La Madona del sufragio" or "La maternidad espiritual de María" or "La Virgen dando su leche a las almas del purgatorio" by Pedro Machuca Mary squirting milk to the souls in purgatory who "luchan para alcanzar, con la boca abierta, el néctar que María y Jess dejan caer sobre aquel lugar de tormento."143 16th century "La Virgen dando su leche a los devotos" Valencia.144 a crowned Mary holding and nursing Jesus, no gestures to breast; gilded mantle held in back of her by two angels; while more than 16 one-third size mortals stand around her knees holding up bowls and jars to catch any possible drops of milk. 1777 "La Virgen dando su leche a los devotos" Valencia.145 drawing/cartoon of the previous painting: no change except now there are only two near-normal size men kneeling at her feet holding up a jar each to catch the many drops of milk that flow from her covered breast. Mary's breasts are not exposed; nonetheless drops of her milk fall from under her hands which are holding Jesus.

3. Juno & Hercules/Hera & Herakles/Gift of Immortality/adoption (spiritual dyad) Isis and Horus had their days in the sun and had long departed from the iconography of Europe when the Middle Ages arrived on the horizon. Juno/Hera nursing Hercules/Herakles, however, represents the only religious theme carried over from a dead age of a civilization into the next even after its practical religious context had supposedly disappeared. The Etruscan rendition of the myth, as mentioned above, of Hera nursing the adult Herakles is not found again after its Etruscan incidence. 1577 "The origin of the Milky Way" by Tintoretto, Venice;146 in this composition an unidentified floating figure (Zeus?/athena?) wrapped loosely in a bolt of cloth from below the arms, holds the baby Heracles (Hercules) in mid-air as he is placed to Hera's breast. Hera, below and to the left, nude and semi-reclined, holds her arms out away from her body to receive the child who is at her breast. Her left arm in mid-air is formed in a loose pseudo-zygodactylous gesture. Two naked floating infants (putti?) are also present, as are a peacock, attribute of Hera, and an eagle, attribute of Zeus, Herakles' father. Out from Hera's breasts, shooting up and down, are golden lines ending in golden stars which symbolize the origin of the Milky Way in Hera's breast milk shooting across the heavens, caused by the force with which Herakles sucked. "The birth of the Milky Way" or "Junon formant le voie lactée" by Rubens (1577-1640);147 Juno, nude, sitting with the infant Hercules, nursing-squirting milk at him from her left breast with her right hand in a pseudo-zygodactylous gesture. Jupiter sits on the back of his eagle-drawn chariot, watching. (Roman goddesses and gods are based on Greek originals: Juno : Hera, Hercules : Herakles, Jupiter : Zeus.)

4. Mediatrix/Intercesora (triad) The first appearance of the pseudo-zygodactylous gesture within European Christian art occurs in the 12th century in a mosaic of the Virgin as mediatrix in the great west wall picture of the Torcello church.148 The Virgin in the mosaic stands in the posture of an orante, hands raised from the elbows with her fingers splayed in the formal manner of the p/z gesture. Her hands, however, are raised with the palms outwards, facing the viewer, and she remains completely covered with no display of her breast whatsoever. Immediately above her is the angel of judgment carrying a balance to weigh the mortals' souls as devils attempt to tip the scale with material goods. To her left are the damned and death, and to the right, priests and life. Above all the images of the priests, angels, apostles, Mary, Jesus, and God the Father, and directly above the Mary of the lower level, is Christ enthroned, sitting in judgment. This positioning of Mary closest to human beings and mediating on their behalf while Christ sits above in judgment of their souls became the standard manner of representing the respective positions of the Mother and Son dyad in the developing iconography of the pseudo-zygodactylous gesture. The iconography of Mary exposing her breast (ostentation mammarum) as intercessor or mediatrix dates back to the 10th century in which Mary shows the part of her humanity, i.e., her breast, that connects her as mother to Jesus; Jesus, in turn, exposes the part of his humanity that connects him to his father--his wounds (ostentatio vulnerum), which his father asked him to suffer. Catharina Film, in her study of the Intercessio Christi figure in Swedish medieval art, presents a collection of statues and paintings on the intercession theme in which the traditional pseudo-zygodactylous gesture is not used once by the Virgin Mary, at least in the regional art of Scandinavia. Neither is the p/z gesture used in the Dutch Book of Hours of Catherine of Cleves. Instead Mary always holds her breast in the manner of Isis, cupping it from below with only the thumb above the nipple or to the side.

10th or 13th century "Virgen intercesora" miniature from the "Biblia Minioda" Spanish;149 Mary, standing to the left of Jesus seated in a mandorla, holds both breasts towards him in a cupping gesture. 1276-83 church dome by Richard de Haldingham;150 wall painting of Jesus the Judge enthroned in heavenly clouds with his hands raised like an orante to show his wounds; two angels at his sides carry the implements of his death as two others blow the horns of judgment; another angel to the left leads a group of human beings, headed by a bishop and king, to judgement; to the right an angel admonishes a group of condemned naked humans as a devil leads them away in a rope; below Jesus is the Virgin Mary with two angels and another woman; Mary opens her dress top with both hands and exposes her breasts to Jesus. Ca. 1385-90 "Man of Sorrows and Mary intercede with God the Father," illustrated manuscript by a Flemish master;151 Jesus on the left kneels, showing the wound in his side as Mary on the right kneels, showing her right breast with her right cupped hand, both gazing on the enthroned God the Father. Ca. 1430-40 "Last Judgment," illustrated manuscript by the Master of Catherine of Cleves, Netherlands;152 Jesus the Judge sits on a rainbow as Mary (to the left), holding her bared breast in a cupping gesture, and John the Baptist (to the right) kneel below requesting pardon for the sinners and dead; sinners above the Mother and saint and to the sides of Christ as "the resurrected dead emerge as naked figures from the earth." This is an adapted illumination from a woodcut from the medieval manuscript, the Speculum humanæ salvationis.153 In it the Virgin also cups her bared breast. ca. 1430-1440 "Crucifixion with God the Father, the Virgin, a Patron-Saint, and Catherine of Cleves" "Catherine pleads with the Holy Mother of God to pray for her; the Virgin intercedes with her Son to be gracious to Catherine for His mother's sake, whose breasts nursed him; Christ crucified asks, in the name of His wounds, for His Father to spare Catherine, and the Father tells His Son, "Your prayer has been heard with favor." On the tiled floor, at either side of the cross, kneel the Virgin (on a red carpet) to the left, and Catherine (on a blue carpet) to the right. The Virgin, one of her breasts bare and spurting milk, gazes up at her son."154 Mary at the foot of the cross, holding bared breast with her nipple between her thumb and second finger, and with her third and fourth fingers in the p/z gesture.

1480 Altarspiece from the Forsa, Hälsingland, Sweden, church;155 sculptured scene in painted wood with four figures from left to right: God the Father, the crowned king, sitting, speaking to his son, the crucified Christ (second from left), who kneels as he holds the cross and gestures to the wound in his side; the Man of Sorrows (third from left), standing, holding the crown of thorns and showing his wounds (ostentatio vulnerum) to his kneeling mother Mary (fourth from left) who shows him her right breast with her right hand in a Isis cupping gesture. 1480 church wall painting from the Ennger, Sweden, church;156 Mary bares and shows her right breast with her right hand in a cupping gesture as Jesus, the Man of Sorrows, shows the wound on his right side with his right hand, using the same gesture as Mary, as his blood pours from his five wounds into a chalice at his right foot. 1486 church wall painting from the Pargas, Sweden, church;157 with three main areas in the shape of a triangle, top third: God the Father above with angels; lower left: Jesus as Man of Sorrows kneels and shows the wound in his right side; lower right: Mary shows God the Father her right breast with her right hand as she holds her cloak open for numerous human beings to receive her protection/mediation. Late 15th century "The Virgin interceding" Colyn de Coter, French;158 a detail of a painting in which the Virgin Mary kneels in front of a group of women with a breast in her right hand, held with the pseudo-zygodactylous gesture. (See figure 9.) 1508 "Memorial to the burgomaster Ulrich Schwartz/Man of Sorrows and Mary intercede before God the Father" painting by Hans Holbein the Elder; God the Father and Jesus (Man of Sorrows), and Mary, with sinners, sitting enthroned and standing, intercessio Christi et Maria, cupping breast, squirting milk at the sinners (donors) below; "Above the Man of Sorrows are the lines: 'Father, see my red wounds, help men in their need, through my bitter death;' and above Mary: 'Lord, sheath thy sword that thou hast drawn, and see my breast, where the Son has sucked;' and above God the Father, who returns his sword to its scabbard: 'I will show pity to all those who depart from life in true repentance.'"159 ca. 1533, painted altarpiece, vertical diptych, of the plague image "Man of Sorrows intercedes, angels with arma Christi, Virgin, Saints Roch and Sebastian" by Martin Schaffner;160 God the Father, sitting enthroned, and Jesus (Man of Sorrows) kneeling above, and Mary and two saints, standing, with mortals around them (including a pope, cardinal, king, and other nobility); God the Father and Mary on left diptych, Christ and saints on right; angel shooting arrows of plague to earth, intercessio Christi et Maria; Mary, holding her cape open to shelter the human sinners, holds her right hand to her left breast in the p/z gesture; the nipple of her breast can hardly be distinguished.

Figure 9. Colyn de Coter, "The Virgin interceding" Brussels (late 15th century)

16th century "María, intercesora ante el Padre" by the Castilian School;161 God the Father to the left raises his hand in benediction, Jesus raises his right to show the wound in his hand and with his left hand shows the wound in his right side as angels hold the other implements of his torture and death, and Mary, kneeling behind Jesus to the painting's right, holding her right breast with her left hand with the pseudo-zygodactylous gesture, her right hand open, gesturing towards Jesus and the Father. "Intecession de la Vierge et de Saint Franois arrtant les Foudres divines" by Peter-Paul Rubens (1577-1640), Flemish;162 Jesus raises his right arm, clasping thunderbolts of wrath as Mary, to the right, touches his left arm while baring her left breast with her right hand in a modified p/z gesture, not a cupping gesture; Saint Francis, meanwhile, attempts to shield the globe of the Earth from Jesus' wrath with his body. "María, intercesora ante el Hijo" by Mateo Cerezo († 1666);163 Jesus enthroned in the clouds, Mary kneeling before him in a lower cloud to the left with her hand to her breast in the p/z gesture, as Saint Augustine holds a rosary up to him and Saint Francis of Assisi holds up a loaf of bread--all in order to request mercy from Jesus who judges a semi-nude human male kneeling below him. In the same role as intercesora/mediatrix, Mary, in the painting "L'intercession de la Vierge en faveur des Ames du Purgatoire" by Philippe De Champaigne,164 Mary stands behind the judging Christ with her right hand to her left breast, without the pseudo-zygodactylous gesture, while extending her left arm downwards towards the souls in purgatory with the p/z gesture. This is an example of the evolution and migration of the gesture, from breast-feeding to salvation gesture, and from placement on the breast to gesticulation in the abstract.

5. Blessing/affirmation/adoption (SS Bernard, Augustine) The imagery of Bernard's miracle of lactation is founded on the words purported to have been spoken by Bernard in prayer before a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, "Monstra te esse matrem." With this request the statue is said to have come alive and have 'expressed' a stream of milk to the mouth of Bernard. Louis Réau traces the iconography of the lactation miracle of Bernard back to the 14th century, finding three paintings from that period, six in the 15th century, eight in the 16th, seven in the 17th, and ends with three in the 18th century.165 14th century "Legend of St. Bernard" Majorcan;166 The Virgin Mary stands holding Jesus in right arm, pressing her right breast with her left hand using the p/z gesture; shooting a stream of milk to the kneeling Bernard in a praying attitude as three saints look on (fig. 10). > 15th century "La légende de la lactation" Flemish;167 p/z gesture to breast and holding the Christ child; Bernard holding book and pen; no milk.

ca. 1475 "Maria erscheint dem heilegen Bernhard" flemish;168 breast cupped with left hand, holding Jesus with right hand; Bernard kneels and prays; no milk. ca. 1540? "Aparición de la Virgen a San Bernardo" by Juan Correa,169 Spanish; Virgin in a mandorla cloud presses her right breast with her right hand to shoot a stream of milk to Bernard using the p/z gesture, holding Jesus in her left arm; Bernard kneels as he receives her milk. 15th century "The lactation miracle of St. Bernard,"170 detail of a retablo by the Valencian Master of Burgo de Osma; the Virgin appears to Bernard alone in a mandorla above an altar, pressing her breast between her thumb and second finger to shoot a stream of milk to the lips of Bernard; Bernard holds his hands in prayer and receives the milk drawn in a straight line from the Virgin's nipples to his closed lips. 1659 "La légende de la "lactation" mystique de saint Bernard" Bruxelles;171 The Virgin standing, with the baby Jesus in her left arm, and Bernard kneeling, elevated above the earth on clouds, overlooking Clairvaux, Bernard's newly established monastery; the Virgin squirts a stream of milk into Bernard's waiting mouth; no gesture visible 1665-75 "La visión de San Bernardo" by Bartolomé Murillo,172 Bernard kneeling with his hand on his chest in the pseudo-zygodactylous gesture receiving milk from the Virgin Mary; the Virgin appears in a cloudy mandorla and presses her right breast with her right hand to shoot a stream of milk to the saint, her nipple between her thumb and second finger, while she holds Jesus in her left arm. Rubens (1577-1640) "Saint Augustin en moine."173 In the painting the figure of the risen Christ holding a cross looks down upon the saint from the left side, while the Virgin on the right presses her right breast with her right hand, presumably to gift Augustine, on whom she gazes, with her milk. Augustine himself kneels between the mother and son looking up into the heavens with his arms crossed. Directly associated with Murillo's painting of the lactation vision of Augustine is the painting by Murillo, "The vision of Saint Augustine" ca. 1678174 in which the bearded Augustine kneels with his hands low and outstretched, with the image of Christ crucified on the viewer's left, gazing upwards towards Mary, to the viewer's right, who is pressing her breast to squirt a stream of milk to his lips; putti fill the upper realms of the painting. ? "Saint Bernard et la Vierge," by the Master of the life of the Virgin, Cologne, the Virgin and Bernard stand in a mundane scene behind a low wall on which the baby Jesus sits; Bernard gazes at the child as Mary, with eyes lowered towards the saint, bares her left breast and holds it with the pseudo-zygodactylous gesture; Jesus touches her p/z hand, as Bernard touches the leg of Jesus with one hand while holding a book with the other; no milk.

6. Pseudo-zygodactylous gesture alone qua religious gesture 1470 "Madonna and Child" by Marco Zoppo;175 the Virgin holds the naked baby Jesus as he stands on a low wall and touches her chin; Mary holds his right foot with her right hand as she holds his mid-chest with her left hand in the p/z gesture. "St. Petronissa" painting by Guercino;176 two-levels in the painting: on top, Jesus enthroned in the clouds with his arms outstretched showing his wounds, Mary kneeling in front of him asking for mercy for the humans below; her arms are crossed against her chest, with her right hand in the p/z gesture held against her left arm in the foreground; the bottom of the painting shows the lowering of the corpse of St. Petronissa into a grave. 1517 "Carondelet diptych" by Jan Gossart dit Mabuse, Flemish;177 on the left wing of the diptych is a bust portrait of the donor, Jean Carondelet, with his hands in a praying gesture; on the right is the Virgin Mary holding the baby Jesus with her left hand under his bottom and her right hand in the pseudo-zygodactylous gesture on his right breast, even with his nipple between her second and third fingers (see figure 11). Both donor and Mary gaze slightly downward, off into space, vaguely towards each others' direction, while Jesus looks straight at the donor. Around the donor's frame are the words "Representacion De Messire Iehan Carondelet Havlt Doyen De Besancon En Son Eage De 48A Fait Lan 1517;" around Mary and Jesus the frame says "Mediatrix Nostra Que Es Post Deum Spes Sola Tuo Filio Me Representa Iohannes Meldobie Pingebat."

Figure 11. Jan Gossart dit Mabuse, "Carondelet diptych" 1517. Flemish

1525-40 "St. Roch" by Parmigianino;178 St. Roch gazes upward towards heaven as he stands in movement, dog under his left leg, touching a kneeling and praying man on the shoulder; St. Roch holds the p/z gesture to right chest. 1540-45 "The temptation of Christ" by Tiziano;179 a half-body portrait of Jesus being tempted by material pleasures in the desert during his fast; a young boy to the left offers him a small box (of jewels, of riches?); Jesus looks downward and holds his right hand to his chest in the p/z gesture, the same as "El caballero de la mano al pecho." 17th century portrait "Dom Miguel del Pozo" by Zurbarán (1598-1662) of a Spanish monk of the Order of Our Lady of Mercy;180 dressed in a white habit, the monk gazes downward while holding the pseudo-zygodactylous gesture to his mid-chest. "Coronation of the Virgin" by Moretto da Brescia;181 Christ in the heavenly clouds crowns the kneeling Mary who holds her right hand in the p/z gesture to her left arm; below Gabriel slays the devil while three other saints look on, one of whom is St. Francis, who holds his right hand to his chest as he gazes on the scene above. "The Virgin and Child" "Opus Karoli Crivelli Veneti;"182 the Virgin standing behind her son who sits on a low wall, holding a goldfinch and looking at a fly which also sits on the wall; to both sides of Mary's head are hanging fruits and vegetables; Mary looks distracted off to the left as her left hand in the p/z gesture is splayed: thumb and second finger on Jesus' arm, third and fourth fingers pointing/touching Jesus' genitals, and fifth finger resting on his left leg.

Chapter V:
Literary sources of lactating goddesses

In order to fully understand the meaning of the breast, breast-feeding, and the use of the pseudo-zygodactylous gesture in art, we must go back to the literary sources circulated by the cultures in which the artists worked. Since Old Europe was preliterate, no literature from it is available.

India: the Rg Veda and the Upanishads "O goddess of Waters [Apah]! ... You have within you the life-giving sap. May you feed us with that even like mothers giving breast milk to their children!"183 "Your inexhaustible breast, Sarasvati, that flows with the food of life, that you use to nourish all that one could wish for, freely giving treasure and wealth and beautiful gifts--bring that here for us to suck."184 "Three women, goddesses [the three mothers of Agni, the water of the three worlds], wish to give food [soma or butter] to the god [Agni] so that he will not waken. He has stretched forth in the waters; he sucks the new milk of those who have given birth for the first time. ... Being a bull, he engendered that embryo in the females; being a child, he sucks them, and they lick him. ..."185

"By [King] Kansa's orders, the fierce Putaná [an ogress] went about killing children in towns, villages and pasture lands, for verily she was a killer of children. That wanderer of the skies [Putaná] entered Gokula [Krishna's home village] at will, assuming the form of a woman most beautiful to look at. So no one stopped her passage. She moved freely here and there and at last entered the house of Nanda. She looked like a kind mother and Yasoda and Rohini were so much struck by her fine exterior that they did not stop her access to Krishna. Putaná placed the child on her lap and gave him milk from her breast full of deadly poison. The divine child knew who Putaná was and what she was about. He held her breast with both hands and in anger drank in the very life juice of the Asura woman. She screamed forth "Let go," "Let go," "No more." Her eyes expanded. She cast up and down her hands and feet again and again in profuse perspiration. Her groans made heaven and earth tremble and space itself resounded on all sides. At last she fell over dead like a great mountain, crushing down trees within an ambit of twelve miles. Fearlessly the boy played on her body. The Gopa ladies hurried to the place with Rohini and Yasoda. They bathed the boy in cows' urine and dust from cows' feet. They pronounced the twelve names of Vishnu (Kesava and others) over twelve parts of his body. ... Yasoda then placed the child on her lap and gave him milk. ... The people of Vraja cut the body into parts and burnt them with fuel. The smoke was sweet-scented, as the touch of Krishna's body purifies even the enemy."186

Mesopotamia "From the Ugaritic Legend of King Keret, in which King Keret is told by the gods that the woman he takes will bear a son who will "draw the milk of A[she]rah / Suck the breasts of the maiden Anath, / The two wet nurs[es of the gods].""187

"The chief of all [northern Cannanite, 14th century bce] gods was El, the father god, ... His wife Asherah, also referred to as 'Lady Asherah of the Sea,' was the mother of all other gods whom she suckled at her breasts." "The Mother-goddess suckling her son (or sons) is, as we have seen, a mythologem frequently recurring in accounts of ancient tetrads."188

Ninhursag/a "The early Sumerian kings liked to describe themselves as 'constantly nourished with milk by Ninhursag [the great mother goddess].'"189

"Ningirsu implanted the seed of Eannatum in the womb and Ninhursaga bore him. Over Eannatum Ninhursaga rejoiced; Innana took him on (her) arm and named him 'Worthy of the Eanna of Ibgal.' She set him down on Ninhursaga's knee for her, and Ninhursaga suckled him."190 It is, then, the act of the goddess nursing the prince, i.e., transferring milk from her divine body into his immature mortal body and acting as his birth mother, that establishes a goddess as the physical parent of the ruler of Lagash.

Egyptian: Isis, Nephthys Many of the Egyptian texts referring to Isis and other goddesses nursing are found in the sacred scriptures of the dead in which the deceased mortal man joins the pantheon of the Egyptian gods.

Nephthys saith: ... Hail, god An! Come to Saïs; Sau is thy name. Come to the nome [sic] of Sapi (?) (Saïtes), thou shalt see thy mother Net (Neith); Beautiful Boy [Osiris], cease not to be with her, come thou to her breasts, and drink deeply there, to thy fill. O Beautiful Brother, depart not thou from her, O divine Son, come to the city of Saïs.191

Hail, Osiris (the deceased), stand up! Horus comes. He counts thee among the gods, Horus loves thee. ... Rise up, stride with thy legs, O mighty one of strength! Thou sittest at the head of the gods, and thou doest what Osiris did in the House of the Prince in Anu. Thou hast received thy Sahu. Thy foot slips not in heaven, thou art not repulsed on earth. Thou art a spirit (khu). Nut gives thee birth, Nephthys gives thee suck, they make thee complete. Thou standest on thy strength. Thou makest thy being, thou makest seed.192

O Ra, O Uakhta, O Uakhta, O Penta, O Penta! He (i.e., the deceased) is thou, thou art he. He cries with joy, his Ka cries with joy. ... The years turn back, turn back, on him, he lies down, he is conceived, he is born every day. Homage to thee, Ra, in thy beauty, in thy beauties, in thy seats, in thy properties. Thou bringest the milk of Isis to him, and the water-flood of Nephthys. ... Thou hadst no mother among men to give thee birth. Thy mother was Samt-urt, who dwells in Nekheb, with the White Crown, and the wig, and the two full feathers, and the two full, hanging breasts. She suckled thee, and she did not let thee lack [milk]. Rise up, Father! Thy water is to thee, thy flood is to thee, thy milk is to thee in the breasts of thy mother Isis. Rise up, O Son of Horus, ... 193

Nut, the great goddess with the long [...] and the pendent breasts, hath given to him her hands, and she suckleth him, and he lacketh nothing from her. She draweth him to heaven, and droppeth him not on the earth, ... Thou livest, O Pepi, for ever. Keb raiseth thee up ... Behold, thou art a spirit, Nephthys suckleth thee with her left breast. Osiris hath given thee spirits. Hours hath reared thee. ... 194

Then the Sem priest poured out a libation before the statue of Osiris, and as he did so he said:-- "Ra riseth, and Ra shineth upon the Company of the Gods. ... The Osiris hath grasped in his hand the Urerit Crown. The Company of the Gods hath fashioned him anew. Isis hath presented to him her breast, Nephthys hath given him suck, And Horus hath received him for his son. ...

The Osiris hath appeared on the thighs of Isis; And he sitteth on the thighs of Nephthys. ... O Isis, the Mother of the Osiris, give thy breast unto the Osiris, and let the Osiris, the royal scribe, put forth his mouth and suck milk therefrom. ..."195

Greek The story of the first use of the breast as an object to communicate the filial responsibility of the maternal connection is in the Greek Iliad of Homer (1230-850 bce) and tells the story of the mother Hekabe (daughter of Dymas, Priam's queen) who watches as her son Hektor prepares himself to meet Achilleus in mortal combat:

So the old man spoke, and in his hands seizing the grey hairs tore them from his head, but could not move the spirit in Hektor. And side by side with him his mother [Hekabe] in tears was mourning and laid the fold of her bosom bare and with one hand held out a breast, and wept her tears for him and called to him in winged words: 'Hektor, my child, look upon these and obey, and take pity on me, if ever I gave you the breast to quiet your sorrow. Remember all these things, dear child, and from inside the wall bear off this grim man [Achilleus]. Do not go out as a champion against him, O hard one; for if he kills you I can no longer mourn you on the death-bed, sweet branch, O child of my bearing, nor can your generous wife mourn you, but a big way from us beside the ships of the Argives the running dogs will feed on you.' So these two in tears and with much supplication called out to their dear son, but could not move the spirit in Hektor, but he awaited Achilleus as he came on, gigantic.196

The Greeks are also the first Indo-European culture whose story of the transfer of power from female to male via her breast milk still exists. Zeus, patriarch of Olympus, had been promised a great hero son by the prophecies. His wife, Hera, however, gave birth to a malformed man and a woman, but nobody that would fulfill the prophecy of a hero son that he so desired. Zeus, therefore, found a mortal woman named Alkmena whose husband was away at war. Knowing that she was a faithful wife, and not wanting to take her by force, Zeus took on the shape and personality of Alkmena's husband, Amphitryon. Alkmena became pregnant by Zeus, and only when her real husband returned did she realize that she had been tricked.

Alkmene gave birth, and, because she was afraid of Hera's jealousy, the child was [left] exposed in a place which to this day is called the Field of Herakles. Now, at the same time, Athena [Zeus' own self-created daughter], with Hera, happened to go by and was amazed at the quality of the child. She persuaded Hera to offer her breast. The child sucked on the breast more violently than a normal child, and Hera, suffering great pain, tore the child away from her breast. Athena then took him to his mother and urged her to nurture him. ...197

Demeter, mother of Kore, and for whom the Eleusinian Mysteries were created, also has breast milk that far exceeds the qualities known to humans. In the story of the founding of the Eleusinian Mysteries, Demeter wanders the earth looking for her daughter Kore who was stolen and carried off by Hades. Demeter comes to the village of Eleusis disguised as an old woman and is befriended by the household of King Celeus. Metaneira, wife of Celeus, had borne a son, Demophoön, and spoke:

'Hail, Lady! For I think you are not meanly but nobly born; truly dignity and grace are conspicuous upon your eyes as in the eyes of kings that deal justice. Yet we mortals bear perforce what the gods send us, though we be grieved; for a yoke is set upon our necks. But now, since you are come here, you shall have what I can bestow: and nurse me this child whom the gods gave me in my old age and beyond my hope, a son much prayed for. ...' Then rich-haired Demeter answered her: 'And to you, also, lady, all hail, and may the gods give you good! Gladly will I take the boy to my breast, as you bid me, and will nurse him. Never, I ween, through any heedlessness of his nurse shall witchcraft hurt him nor yet the Undercutter: for I know a charm far stronger than the Woodcutter, and I know an excellent safeguard against woeful witchcraft.' When she had so spoken, she took the child in her fragrant bosom with her divine hands: and his mother was glad in her heart. So the goddess nursed in the place Demophoon, wise Celeus' goodly son whom well-girded Metaneira bore. And the child grew like some immortal being, not fed with food nor nourished at the breast: for by day rich-crowned Demeter would anoint him with ambrosia as if he were the offspring of a god and breathe sweetly upon him as she held him in her bosom. But at night she would hide him like a brand in the heart of the fire, unknown to his dear parents. And it wrought great wonder in these that he grew beyond his age; for he was like the gods face to face. And she would have made him deathless and unaging, had not well-girded Metaneira in her heedlessness kept watch by night from her sweet-smelling chamber and spied. But she wailed and smote her two hips, because she feared for her son and was greatly distraught in her heart, ...198

Demeter stops the immortalization process, angered with Mataneira's interruption, reveals herself to be the goddess Demeter, and orders a temple and altar built for her. Demophoön remains a mortal, but "unfailing honour [shall] always rest upon him, because he lay upon my knees and slept in my arms."

Etruscan "The subscribed legend is interpreted to read: Hæc (est) monstratio (?) quomodo (?) mortalis (?) Hercules Junonis filius factum sit, or in place factum sit, possibly nascebatur, and this is evidently "an explanation of the significance of the action portrayed." The translation would be "Here is shown how the mortal Hercules became the legitimate son of Juno," or possibly "was [re-]born as the legitimate son of Juno."199

In the above-mentioned note Panofsky also points out that a prayer based on an authoritative relationship and an appeal to motherhood is a topos in the literature of antiquity. Matriarchy prevailed in the peoples around the shores of the Mediterranean, whose social forms were rather undeveloped, and the mother's status in the family was based on this. Among the Etruscans, for example, children who had received milk from the same mother were considered to be also blood relations, i.e. to belong to the same family as the mother's own children. Family affiliation was founded on the mother's adoption of the children. The antiquity of this attitude is shown by a picture on an Etruscan ivory mirror, now in an Athens museum, which represents Hercules' entry into Olympus, where, in order to be the equal of the gods and of the same blood as they, he must be adopted by Hera, the mother of all the gods, by receiving her milk. A mother's milk was ascribed divine, healing powers and this was the case also as regarded Mary. As a special favour, her devotees, by leading a holy life, could obtain a few drops of her milk, which bestowed abundant grace and relief in case of serious illness. St. Bernhard, Archbishop Fulbertus of Chartres and Archbishop Anselm of Canterbury were among the select few who shared in these lactation miracles. --Catharina Film, "Intercessio Christi" i Svensk senmedeltida konst (Uppsala 1971) p. 73

Hebrew scriptures / the Torah200 The Hebrew--and Christian--scriptures have been dismissed lately as patriarchal texts with little or no God imagery for women to identify with. The criticism is accepted, yet there remain traces of maternal imagery that have not been overridden by the patriarchs and their mythographers. This includes breast and nursing imagery, of which even the title of God used in Exodus 6:2-3, El Shaddai, traditionally interpreted as the Almighty, may be interpreted as the Breasted One from the Hebrew word shad, meaning breast, instead of using the Akkadian word shadu meaning mountain.201 In the following five selections, three are given that address milk (Hebrew chalabh) as a material commodity indicating abundance and wealth. The fourth and fifth, both from the prophet Isaiah, focus on the action of nursing, the quality of the person doing it (e.g., "royal"), and the satisfaction in both the action and the content of nursing. God is the implicit actor in both cases, reminiscent of Isis nursing the pharaohs of Egypt and of Asherah nursing the prince Yassib and Anath.202

Exodus 3:8 (3:17 repeats) So I [God] have come down to rescue them [the Jews in Egypt] from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey--the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites.

Job 29:6 ... when my path was drenched with cream, and the rock poured out for me streams of olive oil

Joel 3:18 In that day the mountain will drip with new wine, and the hills will flow with milk; all the ravines of Judah will run with water.

Isaiah 60:14-16 14 The sons of your oppressors will come bowing before you; all who despise you will bow down at your feet and will call you The City of the Lord, Zion of the Holy One of Israel. 15 Although you have been forsaken and hated, with no-one travelling through, I will make you the everlasting pride and the joy of all generations. 16 You will drink the milk of nations and be nursed at royal breasts. Then you will know that I, the Lord, am your Saviour, your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.

Isaiah 66:8c-13 8c Yet no sooner is Zion in labour than she gives birth to her children. 9 Do I bring to the moment of birth and not give delivery? says the Lord. Do I close up the womb when I bring to delivery? says your God. 10 Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice greatly with her, all you who mourn over her. 11 For you will nurse and be satisfied at her comforting breasts; you will drink deeply and delight in her overflowing abundance. 12 For this is what the Lord says: I will extend peace to her like a river, and the wealth of nations like a flooding stream; You will nurse and be carried on her arm and dandled on her knees. 13 As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you and you will be comforted over Jerusalem.

Christian scriptures / the New Testament Only one text in the Gospels spoken by Jesus refers to a woman's breasts:

As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, "Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you." He replied, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it."203

The apostles Paul and Peter, however, refers to gala (gala) as the spiritual food offered by Christ to new Christians. Paul uses the Greek word for milk gala as a synonym "for the kerygma brought to Corinth by Paul," and as "a figure for the basic elements of divine teaching," 204 Peter speaks of milk as the "the pure, pneumatic (divine) milk by which the new born are nourished" which "is itself the gnosis provided for Christians in the Gospel."205

1 Corinthians 3:1-2 Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly--mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready.

Hebrews 5:11-13 We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness.

1 Peter 2:1-3 Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.

Christian Apocrypha The Odes of Solomon, totally Christian or Jewish-Christian206 apocrypha from possibly the 1st century ce. "The original language of the Odes was probably Greek, although some scholars argue for a Syriac original. Harris conjectured a Jewish-Christian origin from the first century a.d.."207

Ode 8:14 (Christ speaks) I fashioned their members, And my own breasts I prepared for them, That they might drink my holy milk and live by it.

Ode 14:1-3 As the eyes of a son upon his father, So are my eyes, O lord, at all times towards Thee.

Because my breasts and my pleasure are with Thee.

Turn not aside Thy mercies from me, O Lord; And be to me a guide till the end according to thy will.

Ode 19: 1-7 A cup of milk was offered to me, And I drank it in the sweetness of the Lord's kindness.

The Son is the cup, And the Father is He who was milked; And the Holy Spirit is She who milked Him;

Because His breasts were full, And it was undesirable that His milk would be ineffectually released.

The Holy Spirit opened Her bosom, And mixed the milk of the two breasts of the Father.

Then She gave the mixture to the generation without their knowing, And those who never received (it) are in the perfection of the right hand.

The womb of the Virgin took (it), And she received conception and gave birth.

So the Virgin became a mother with great mercies.

Ode 40:1 As honey drips from the honeycomb of bees, And milk flows from the woman who loves her children, So also is my hope upon Thee, O my God.208

-The Concept of Our Great Power "And the mother of the fire was impotent. She brought the fire upon the soul and the earth and she burned all dwellings that are in it (feminine; the soul and the earth). ... Moreover, when she will not find (anything else) to burn, she will destroy herself. And it will become incorporeal, without body, and it will burn matter, until it has purged everything and all wickedness. For when it will not find anything else to burn, it will turn to itself until it has destroyed itself. Then, in this æon, which is the psychic one, the man will come into being who knows the great Power. He will receive (me) and he will know me. He will drink from the milk of the mother, in fact. He will speak in parables; he will proclaim the aeon that is to come, just as he spoke ot Noah in the first aeon of the flesh. ... And he opened the gates of the heavens with his words. And he put to shame the ruler of Hades; he raised the dead, and destroyed his dominion."209

Church Fathers: Irenæus and Jerome Irenæus, bishop of Lyons from 178-ca. 200 ce and the first great Catholic theologian, wrote in his major work Against Heresies, "Those who do not have a share in the Spirit are not nourished to life by the Mother's breasts."210 Jerome (ca. 342-420) wrote in his Roman epistles "Though thy mother, with flowing hair and rent garments, should show thee the breasts which have nourished thee ...--yet depart thou ... and fly with dry eyes to the standard of the cross [i.e., monasticism]."211

Saints and mystics

Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) (Cistercian) Sermon to prelates Show affection as a mother would, correct like a father. Be gentle, avoid harshness, do not resort to blows, expose your breasts: let your bosoms swell with milk, not swell with passion. ... Why will the young man, bitten by the serpent, shy away from the judgment of the priest, to whom he ought to run as to the bosom of a mother?(42)212

Guerric of Igny (Cistercian) [Christ] is a father in virtue of natural creation ... and authority. ... He is a mother too in the mildness of his affection, and a nurse. ... The Holy Spirit (is) like milk poured out from Christ's own breasts.(39)

Clare (1194-1253) --Clare's dream The Lady Clare also told that once she had seen St. Francis in a vision and she was bringing him a jug of hot water and a towel for wiping his hands and with this she was ascending a long stairway, but so easily that it was as though she walked on the level earth. When she reached St. Francis, he bared his breast, saying "Come, take and drink." And she did so. Then St. Francis bid her suckle a second time. And what she tasted seemed to her so sweet and delightful that she could not describe it in any way. And after she had suckled, the nipple of the breast from which the milk came, remained between the lips of the happy Clare; she took what remained in her mouth into her hands, and it seemed to be such pure shining gold that she saw her own reflection in it, as in a mirror.213

Catherine of Siena (1347-1380)214 Catherine wrote down her visions and her interpretations of Christian scripture, of which the first of the following excerpts from her 'dialogue' is based on the saying of Jesus, "Whosoever thirsteth, let him come to me and drink." It is offered here as a contrast to the further writings of Catherine focused on drinking.

ch. LIII "... And why did her say 'Let him come to me and drink'? Because whoever follows his doctrine, whether in the most perfect way or by dwelling in the life of common charity, finds to drink, tasting the fruit of the blood, through the union of the divine nature with the human nature. ch. LXXII "... But the soul who has in truth entered the house of self-knowledge, and by the exercise of perfect prayer has raised herself from the imperfect love of imperfect prayer, by the means of which I [the Father] speak to thee in this treatise on prayer, receives me, through affection of love, seeking to draw herself the milk of my sweetness from the breast of the doctrine of Christ crucified. ch. XCVI "... She receives the fruit of quietness of mind, a union with my sweet divine nature, where she tastes the milk, as when the child, who sleeps at peace on the breast of its mother, draws to itself milk by means of the flesh of its mother; so the soul, arrived at this last state, reposes on the breast of my divine charity, keeping in the mouth of holy desire the flesh of Christ crucified, ... So the soul reposes at the breast of Christ crucified, who is the Truth, and thus draws to herself the milk of virtue, in which she finds the life of grace, tasting in herself my divine nature, ... "Now look, sweet daughter, how sweet and glorious is this state, in which the soul has made so close a union with the breast of charity, that the mouth is not found without the breast, neither the breast without the milk. And so this soul does not find herself without Christ crucified or without me, the Eternal Father, whom she finds, tasting the supreme and Eternal Deity. ... "At this breast of love the memory fills itself, ... ch. CX "Now I will reply to that which thou didst ask me concerning the ministers of the holy Church ... And since one thing is better known by means of contrast with its contrary, I will show thee the dignity of those who use virtuously the treasure I have placed in their hands; and in this way thou wilt the better see the misery of those who to-day are suckled at the breast of my Spouse." Then this soul obediently contemplated the truth, in which she saw virtue resplendent in those who truly taste it. ... "Thou knowest that thou wentest one morning to church at sunrise to hear Mass, ... When the minister came to consecrate, thou raisedst thine eyes above his head while he was saying the words of consecration, and I manifested myself to thee, and thou didst see issue from my breast a light, like a ray from the sun, ... out of the midst of which light came a dove and hovered over the host, in virtue of the words which the minister was saying. ch. CXXXIX "... Wherefore his religion is a delightful garden, broad and joyous and fragrant, but the wretches who do not observe the order, but transgress its vows, have turned it into a desert and defiled it with their scanty virtue and light of science, though they are nourished at its breast.

Julian of Norwich (1342-1413+)215 Jesus is our true Mother in nature by our first Creation, and he is our true Mother in grace by his taking our created Nature. (15) The mother can give her child suck of her milk, but our precious Mother Jesus can feed us with himself, and does most courteously and most tenderly with the blessed sacrament, which is the precious food of true life. ... The mother can lay her child tenderly to her breast, but our tender Mother Jesus can lead us easily into his blessed breast through his sweet open side.(19)

Bernardino of Siena (1380-1444)216 Only the blessed Virgin Mary has done more for God, or just as much, as God has done for all humankind ... God fashioned us from the soil, but Mary formed him from her pure blood; God impressed on us his image, but Mary impressed hers on God. ... God taught us wisdom, but Mary taught Christ to flee from the hurtful and follow her; God nourished us with the fruits of paradise, but she nourished him with her most holy milk, so that I may say this for the blessed virgin, who, however, God made himself, God is in some way under a greater obligation to us through her than we to God.

Christian folklore From the Golden Legend of Jacobus de Voragine (1229-1298) --the tale of seven women followers in the martyrdom of Saint Blaise in 287 ce Meanwhile the governor, seeing that he could not force the saint [Blaise] to worship idols, had him bound to a stake, and commanded that his flesh be torn with iron spikes; after which he was again led back to gaol. Seven women, however, followed the saint, and gathered up the drops of his blood. ... Then one of the women, who was the mother of two children, laid hold of the [pagan] robes and threw them into the fire. And her babes said to her: 'Dearest mother, do not leave us behind, but as thou hast plenished us with the sweetness of thy milk, so now fill us with the sweetness of the Kingdom of Heaven!' Then the [pagan] governor had them lashed to the stake, and the executioners laid open their flesh with iron points. But their flesh remained as white as snow, and from it milk spurted forth instead of blood.217

--the martyrdom of Saint Agatha in 253 ce On the morrow, the consul said to her: 'Renounce Christ and adore the gods!' Upon her refusal, he had her bound to a rack to be tortured. ... Enraged, the consul ordered that her breasts by roughly twisted, and then commanded that they be torn off. And Agatha cried: 'Cruel and impious tyrant, does it not shame thee to torture, in a woman, that with which thy mother suckled thee? But know that in my soul I have other breasts, whose milk sustains all of my senses, which I have long since dedicated to God!'218

--Saint Bernard [Bernard's mother] bore seven children, six children and one daughter, and dedicated all the sons to be monks, and the daughter to be a nun. For as soon as she had given birth to a child, she offered it to God with her own hands. Nor would she allow her children to be suckled at the breasts of other women, but imparted to them, with the maternal milk, the nature of their mother's virtue.219

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

The lactation motif

Personal types
From Christianity's early beginnings up to the beginning of the Renaissance (ca. 1350), as demonstrated by the artwork and literature above, the lactation motif centered around dyadic ('personal' or 'private') images of the Virgin nursing the infant Jesus alone (exept in the case of St. Luke, the portraitist) in various situations: Mary's giving birth to Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and Jesus' flight to Egypt, Mary sitting on the ground (the Virgin of Humility), Mary enthroned, Mary posing for St. Luke, and Mary standing. Although there is no conclusive evidence that the Christian 'Virgin nursing the infant Jesus' motif was borrowed from the Egyptian 'Isis nursing the infant Horus' motif, a fundamental iconological difference exists between the ways each goddess holds her hand in nursing the infant. Isis always holds her breast with a cupped hand, whereas the Virgin Mary uses both the cupped hand to hold her breast and the pseudo-zygodactylous gesture to offer her nipple to the infant Jesus. This dyadic encounter between sacred Mother and sacred infant, between Mary and Jesus, offers a very broad range of interpretation: maternity and the maternal-child bond,220 matrisexuality and a child's intimacy with its mother,221 the Madonna's "homey simplicity and unpretentious accessibility,"222 sympathy and humility,223 an anticipatory basis for Mary's "authority to intercede for mankind,"224 erotic and sensual delight,225 orality,226 an "explicit objectification of ... personal and collective anxiety [over] ... the uncertainty of food supply,"227 and explicit proof of Jesus Christ's human incarnation.228 Prior to Christianity, artists created dyadic lactation scenes involving goddesses nursing older boys and young men, with direct mouth to breast contact: in the Near East (Karatepe), in Egypt (Isis and pharaohs) and in Etruria (Hera nursing Herakles, with company). Only in the latter example (the Etruscan mirror, above) does a goddess use the pseudo-zygodactylous gesture. In Christianity this scene never appears with direct breast-mouth contact. In its stead the Virgin Mary presses her breast and causes milk to jet out in an arc or to fall upon her believers' mouths (e.g., Saint Bernard). The one exception to this case is the Virgin nursing a unicorn.229 In situations where the Virgin Mary offers milk to a saint, the p/z gesture is used almost exclusively. This is the first degree of extension away from the personal/private display of Mary nursing: the introduction of another person, a Christian saint, as receptor of the divine milk. Given the presence of the child Jesus in these nursing scenes, the setting becomes a triangle of holy figures: Mother, Child and Saint.

Impersonal types
The Renaissance of the 15th century developed the lactation theme by introducing the motif of Mary, the Mother of God, explicitly showing her breast (ostentatio mammarum) to a group of other beings: God the Father and to the resurrected Jesus in Heaven as a request for the salvation of mortals, who are present, on the latter's behalf.230 The two scenes in which this occurs are the "Intercessio Christi et Maria," and the "Mother and the Man (Son) of Sorrows." The meaning here is obvious: Mary shows her breast to Jesus Christ and to God the Father as proof that she was the mother of Jesus and that, through the strength of this relationship, she has the power to request favors and God, in turn, has the obligation to honor her request.231 (This motif draws from the ancient story of the Iliad in which Hekuba, the mother, implores her son, Hektor, not to go into battle. See above.) In this case the favor is always the immortal salvation of mortal human beings.232 In nearly every occurrence of Mary's ostentatio mammarum, she uses the p/z gesture on her breast. Towards the latter end of the Renaissance (1603), Cesare Ripa adapted the maternal lactation motif to his anthropomorphized images of abstract qualities,233 and artists began depicting scenes from Greek and Roman myths, including the theme of the "Creation of the Milky Way" with Hera/Juno and Herakles. Overall, the Medieval and Renaissance periods involve the rapid evolution of the lactation theme from early Christian Mother-Holy Child dyad to the incorporation of mortals in the scene. In the majority of these scenes the artists depict the goddess using the pseudo-zygodactylous gesture.

The meaning of the hand gesture

Immortal female
In all of the paintings and scenes described above, there is one common element: the pseudo-zygodactylous gesture. Hitherto its meaning has been lost or unknown, even by the artists who used it.234 It is used in every type and motif in which the Virgin Mary places her hand to her breast or when her breast is bared in request for mortal salvation. But in only one instance, and that in modern literature, is the gesture as such noted as being a symbolic maternal gesture: "the nursing gesture here becomes a sign of the sustenance and salvation of mankind."235 This same gesture is also described for use in modern literature and depictions of breastfeeding.236 From both the artistic and medical evidence it is clear that the pseudo-zygodactylous gesture, when used by women, is indeed a gesture of giving salvation, derived from gestures women actually use/used while nursing.

Fig. 12. Modern nursing mother237

But the context needs to be further delineated: in the case of Isis nursing the pharaohs and other mortals, her gift, through her milk, was immortality; in the case of Hera nursing Herakles, her gift was also immortality to the mortal-born Herakles; but in the case of Mary nursing Jesus--Mary who was mortal at the time, and Jesus who was already immortal --no such correspondence exists. It was only after her transubstantiation and assumption into heaven that she became immortal. She becomes a salvific being only after her assumption--upon becoming immortal and living in heaven. Her ability to save mortals from eternal hell is also incumbent upon the strength of her relationship to her son, Jesus, and upon his relationship to his father, God.238 In the first two of these instances, it is the goddesses' physical milk that conveys immortality to mortals, whereas with the Blessed Virgin Mary, it is her maternal relationship--as demonstrated by her nursing Jesus, her bared breast, and her use of the breast-feeding gesture--that is salvific. Thus the gesture evolves among the forementioned goddesses from a simple gesture of holding the breast (in order to transfer milk from immortal breast to mortal mouth) to a sign of maternal relationship with the gods who grant immortality. The pseudo-zygodactylous gesture also becomes an abstract symbol of this latter maternal relationship as the gesture is moved away from the breast. In all earlier Christian depictions of the Virgin Mary in which the gesture appears, her breast is bared for nursing the child Jesus. In the late Medieval period and early Renaissance, Mary is seen to have removed her gestured hand from her breast, leaving her breast uncovered, as in the motifs of the "Intercessio Christi et Maria," and the "Mother and the Man (Son) of Sorrows," and Madonna Mediatrix.239 In later portraits, her breast is covered, but her hand remains in the maternal breast-feeding gesture. Later still, her breast is covered and her hand is placed across the chest of child Jesus, framing his nipple in exactly the same manner as she had in earlier works with the pseudo-zygodactylous/breast-feeding gesture framed her own. (See figure 13.) This change of gesture location is an evolution of the gesture within the context of the main character herself: from Mary's bared breast, to her uncovered breast and away from her body, to covered breast and away from her body, to the gesture's placement on Jesus' own breast. Still, the gesture remains within the sacred repertoire of the immortal goddess.

Figure 13. William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905), "Virgin and angels" 1900. Musée du Petit Palais, Paris

Not only is the p/z gesture an emblem, symbol of the maternal element of exchange in the economy of salvation; it is also a fundamental motif of religious art. In it are united two basic aspects of ancient and modern European culture: art and religion. The p/z gesture signals the archetypal mediation between human and divine, female and male, life and death. Here the gesture's meaning can be traced backward as such: pseudo-zygodactylous gesture > breast-feeding gesture > breast-feeding > (transfer of breast milk from goddess to mortal male) > immortality > maternal salvation. This is the most naturalistic interpretation of the gesture, but it is not the gesture's only meaning.240

Immortal male
In Christian iconography another type of evolution of the gesture occurs: the migration of the gesture from the Virgin Mary to other beings, immortal and mortal. When Jesus uses the pseudo-zygodactylous gesture, he becomes a mother figure (Julian of Norwich, "Jesus is our true Mother," "our tender Mother Jesus can lead us easily into his blessed breast through his sweet open side"), complete with the ability to nurse and the feeling of maternal concern and responsibility for his mortal children. Literature from the 12th through 15th centuries supports the concept of 'Jesus as mother,'241 thus translating the concept of nursing to the preeminent Christian authority figure, Jesus himself. Initially, after Mary's placement of her nursing gesture on Jesus' breast, Jesus adopts the hand sign for himself to show the wound in his side and his breasts. Later, as seen in Titian's and El Greco's own paintings, Jesus uses the hand symbol displayed on his covered chest and to hold his cross. Lastly, to complete this phase of the migration, the gesture is taken up by mortal beings who have become immortal. In Christian iconography this refers to saints, both male and female. The meaning of the pseudo-zygodactylous hand gesture becomes more abstract as it is removed from its source, the mother goddess. Jesus uses the gesture for his own display purposes, showing his wounds (ostentatio vulnerum) as both proof of his humanity and his obedience to his father to suffer a mortal death. In this situation it is probable that artists adapted the hand sign from Mary as Jesus' own gesture of salvation. Still, as the gesture moves to human beings who gained immortality through correct living and correct worship, it is arguable that the gesture they were given was not borrowed from Jesus but from the original source, Mary. Mary was known, and still is among Catholic believers, as having special favor with Jesus and God, and also as being the 'easier' path by which to gain heavenly salvation. The gesture more often appears in the later Renaissance with Mary and with her special followers such as Bernard of Clairvaux and St. Ildefonso. When the sainted mortals have adopted the gesture and followed the proper path to immortal salvation, they themselves then become pathways, through Mary, for other mortals to eternal life.242

Mortal male
No one knows who the subject is of El Greco's painting, "El caballero de la mano al pecho." The most that we can say is, if indeed it is a portrait of a Spanish man, that he was a mortal since he bears no resemblance nor ascription to any Christian saint. His use of the symbolic hand gesture completes the migration of the gesture from immortal female breast-feeding to the mortal male with no symbolic or relational context.243 With "El caballero" the gestures also reaches its most abstract form, its contact with the original form lost. The gesture must be understood in its different contexts and different persons. When Mary uses the p/z gesture to nurse Jesus, for example, the hand's meaning is distinct from that of Jesus embracing the cross with his hands posed in the stylized manner. It is also possible that the hand gesture contains multiple meanings, at different levels, none being the exclusive or "right" one. The multiplicity of symbolic meanings ascribed to Mary's bared breast by two of its most scholarly writers, Leo Steinberg (The sexuality of Christ in Renaissance art and modern oblivion) and Margaret R. Miles ('The Virgin with one bare breast').244 Mary's bared breasts and nursing are understandably interpreted by Steinberg in relation to proving the incarnate physicalness of the main character, the Christ child, since Christ is the main character of his study. Margaret Miles demonstrates a completely distinct opinion of the meaning of Mary's breast as a symbol of nourishment, plenitude and care when examining Mary as the central figure in an enormously popular cult of her own during a time of famine, hunger and death. Mary, the Mother of God, however, is a major figure in Christianity by herself (sometimes referred to as the fourth member of the Holy Trinity) and should be understood as a participant with a special symbolic meaning within the scenes, just as any other saint. Her breasts, her milk, her motherhood are specific attributes as significant to the understanding of Christian theology as Christ's nudity. Mary's breast is not just an indifferent theatrical prop, a nameless udder from which Jesus shows that he, too, drinks milk, nor does its meaning derive solely from Jesus' nursing from it, but the gesture symbol draws strength and meaning from viewers' knowledge that Mary is Jesus' mother, and it carries the connotations of the mother-son relationship, the maternal bond, and all the psycho-social history that the mother-child bond carries with it.


In dealing with metaphors and the decipherment of symbolic language, the Spanish poet Carlos Bousoño uses the equation "A (el símbolo) [=B=C=] la emoción de C" in order to understand the symbolic metaphors of Spanish poets such as García Lorca and Ramón Jiménez.245 Bousoño's rule of symbol transitivity suggests that any symbol--literary or graphic--can be translated through a series of mental links into the expression of an emotion. Keeping in mind the historical, religious, and inter-cultural milieus through which the p/z gesture has traveled, the basic transitional steps, are: the pseudo-zygodactylous gesture (the symbol) [= the position of a mother's hand on her breast while nursing her child = a mother's warmth, love, and care = a mother's role of protection, especially in relation to paternal authority = intercession on the part of the child = the intercession of Mary, the Mother of God, on behalf of humankind (sinners) in front of God=] the emotion of spiritual salvation, the goal of all Christians. Both historically and symbolically the pseudo-zygodactylous gesture links Mankind to God via Woman, the female element of intercession in conflict. Throughout this examination it should be noted that not one depiction of any character using the pseudo-zygodactylous gesture is known to have been created by a woman. It thus appears that every example of the p/z gesture was created by a man. Knowing this, it is appropriate to ask Cui bono? --- Who benefits from this gesture and its accompanying salvific qualities? A meaning may be read into this: that male control (as artists and writers) of the female (i.e., the Virgin, Hera, Isis) insures continued access for males to immortality, which is located in the realm of the divine female. The salvific power of the divine mother is not abnegated or denied, but translated and appropriated by men. How conscious were painters and sculptors of the meaning of the gesture? Given the total lack of information handed down from them, both orally and in literature, it is safe to assume that their use of the gesture was traditional at best, unconscious at worst. Nonetheless, the gesture exists principally in the religious realm, connected through history to the mother goddess. Through the combined history of the salvific theology of breast milk and its gesture, the pseudo-zygodactylous gesture plays its role as a requesting sign for human salvation.

fig. 14. "Jeanne d'Arc," portrayed by French actress Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923), by Eugene Grasset, ca. 1890. postcard246