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Leonardo Da Vinci’s "Madonna Litta" Spurs Public Breastfeeding Conversation

The Guardian ran a piece today on what the author, Joanna Moorhead, considers “one of the finest posters ever produced for the pro-breastfeeding movement,” it’s a reproduction of the “Madonna Litta” — a painting currently on display at a blockbuster Leonardo da Vinci exhibition at the National Gallery. Just last week, in the spirit of Christmas, I posted a series of Madonna and child paintings, including this one, and posted the question, “how can this be considered obscene?”

Moorhead writes that this painting shows you all you need to know about the benefits of breastfeeding: “In the painting, Mary looks serene and happy, and baby Jesus looks healthy and replete. She is gazing down at her boy; he is looking towards us, his eyelids heavy with sleep now he has had his fill of her milk. Mary’s outfit features a detail that was perhaps common in breastfeeding-friendly Renaissance Florence, but which is less often seen now an opening has been made in the material of her top to provide easy access to her breasts when her baby needs to feed. The painting is almost an advert for such a practical solution to the age-old problem of how to produce a boob  quickly when your child is shrieking for a feed; and to make the point about how useful it is, the Christ-child in Leonardo’s painting is grasping his mother’s breast with his chubby, well-fed right hand.”

Moorhead despairs over the more contemporary cover-ups– huge tents that totally cover the baby, blocking eye-contact, and making it hard for the mom, way up there in the world, to see how the baby is doing. I have to agree with her. I think it’s one thing to nurse discreetly but when we’re basically tenting the baby are we really saying yes to public breastfeeding? There are some products today that are a bit more like the Madonna’s practical Florentine blouse– check out the line from the Swedish company Boob, for example. But I think Moorhead makes a very compelling point when she concludes:

“Before we can expect our breastfeeding rates to go up, we have to start being comfortable with the concept comfortable in a way that was clearly second-nature in 15th-century Florence, but which is almost entirely lost today. Let’s hope some of the hoards of people flocking to the Leonardo show realize that the Madonna Litta isn’t just a beacon in Renaissance art; it’s also a beacon in the art of breastfeeding.”

 

 

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