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10 Powerful Images Of Breastfeeding Mothers, From The Renaissance To 2011

Self-portrait by adult film star Madison Young, 2011

These paintings, sculptures and photographs of women breastfeeding have all stopped me in my tracks at some point over the last year or so. I started a file called “Multitasking Mothers,” where I saved these images. Some are inspired by Greek mythology– who knew Hercules got his supernatural strength from divine breastmilk? Others show nursing mothers as symbols of patriotism; some are comments on sexuality and the body. All of them deal in some way with a woman’s unique ability to nurture. It’s fascinating to see how ideas about breastfeeding shift from 1511 to 2011. Here are my ten favorites:

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  • “Abundance”, Bologne, Italy, ca. 1500 1 of 10
    "Abundance", Bologne, Italy, ca. 1500
  • “Charity” by Jacopo Sansovino, ca. 1510 2 of 10
    "Charity" by Jacopo Sansovino, ca. 1510
  • “The Origins of the Milky Way” Jacopo Tintoretto (1575-1580) 3 of 10
    "The Origins of the Milky Way" Jacopo Tintoretto (1575-1580)
    According to the myth, baby Heracles was brought to Hera by the goddess of protection Athena. Hera nursed the infant out of pity but he suckled with such gusto she pushed him away causing her milk to shoot out across the sky, forming the milky way. It was the divine milk that have Heracles his powers.
  • “Charity,” Francesco de Mura, 1743/44 4 of 10
    "Charity," Francesco de Mura, 1743/44
    (This is the picture that inspired me to call my breastfeeding file "multitasking mothers.")
  • Sketch for The Republic, Honoré Daumier,1848 5 of 10
    Sketch for The Republic, Honoré Daumier,1848
    A fascinating work submitted to a competition among French artists to create a painting that would best represent the establishment of The Republic in 1848. From the Musée d'Orsay, "This 'big woman' summed up an ideal, that of a strong republic, nourishing and educating her children. A 'fertile, serene and glorious' republic claiming its descent from the first great republic which had abolished slavery; the republic whose flag had circled the world. " Incredible.
  • A scuplture from “Vigeland-Parken” by Gustav Vigeland (b. 1669) 6 of 10
    A scuplture from "Vigeland-Parken" by Gustav Vigeland (b. 1669)
    Vigeland-Parken is a collection of over 200 life-sized figures representing birth, life and death, of granite and bronze. It's just mind blowing! All of the work by Vigeland.
  • “Motherhood” by Sir Thomas Brock, 1911 7 of 10
    "Motherhood" by Sir Thomas Brock, 1911
    Another in the patriotic tradition, this sits between the Mall and Buckingham Palace in London.
  • “Draped Reclining Mother and Baby” by Henry Moore, 1983 8 of 10
    "Draped Reclining Mother and Baby" by Henry Moore, 1983
  • “All Things To All People” Kate Kelly, 2008 9 of 10
    "All Things To All People" Kate Kelly, 2008
    (Nice title.)
  • “Self-Portrait,” Madison Young, 2011 10 of 10
    "Self-Portrait," Madison Young, 2011
    This self-portrait of a feminist adult film star stirred quite a bit of controversy---her hope, at last how I read it, is to mangle our associations about breasts, women's bodies, sexuality and motherhood. I think it's a fantastic picture.

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