maria lactans
maria lactans
maria lactans
maria lactans

workshop of Lucas Cranach the elder
after 1537

oil paint

Dom Museum Wien
On loan from the Weinhaus Parish, Vienna


Oil paint
Oil painting

On view

Reproduction request
Loan request

Photo: Leni Deinhardstein, Lisa Rastl, Dom Museum Wien
Next Object >

The Madonna nursing the Infant

The depiction of the Madonna nursing her son was developed in the Middle Ages so as to inspire the congragation emotionally. Stylistically, this painting is very close to the work of Lucas Cranach.

The painting shows—as the Latin title states—Mary nursing the baby Jesus. She is represented as a half-figure, holding the naked infant in her right arm and, between the splayed fingers of her left, offers her breast to the child. She wears a red dress with billowing sleeves, and over it a dark coat. Her curly hair, falling on her shoulder, is held back by a thin ribbon, and a gauzy veil, scarcely visible, covers her forehead. Her head is bent to the right, and her gaze directed straight at the viewer. The boy child is shown drinking with his eye open and also looking out from the picture. In the background, two cherubs hold up a black cloth—a motif that was used time and again in art history: for one thing, it gives a special air of dignity to the personages represented and thus serves as a formulaic expression of grandeur, and for another, it is also an artistic device that heightens the sculptural effect of the figuration. The composition of the painting is strikingly symmetrical: with her sideways-bent elbows, Mary is an example of classic triangular figuration, which is taken up and accentuated by the two putti and the cloth. Only the bent head breaks the strict symmetry and loosens up the picture. Also noticeable is the expressive color pallet that uses strong contrasts like red and green.

The painting is neither signed nor dated; nothing is known about where is was originally put up or who commissioned it. Its stylistic characteristics and comparative examples of similarly conceived pictures suggest that it may be from the workshop of Lucas Cranach the Elder. The subject of “Maria lactans” has been common in art history since the Middle Ages. It epitomizes the close loving relationship of mother and child, and also stands for the church as a nurturing mother.