Bar­tolomé de Car­denas “Bermejo’s” oil painting, Virgen de la leche, c. 1465 por­trays a seated Virgin Mary nursing her child. The Virgin is depicted in this work as a humble mother and a regal figure; looking lov­ingly at her child. Despite the serenity of the scene, the pol­itics of church and state that sur­round this painting urge us to con­sider a tension between the cen­trality of the Virgin’s figure within the Iberian Empire and the reg­u­lation of her body, her child’s body and in extension the Christian nation. Two dis­courses, one of Catholic identity building, and the other seeking to enforce ideal moth­ering habits, dia­logue with each other. Simul­ta­ne­ously, early modern writers were inter­ested in nor­mal­izing and enforcing motherly habits. In my essay “Breast­feeding in Public? Rep­re­sen­ta­tions of Breast­feeding in Early Modern Spain” I con­sider the medical treatise by Mal­lorcan physician Damian Carbón, Libro del arte de las comadres o madrinas, del Regimiento de las preñadas y paridas y de los niños (1541) and the behavior manual Colo­quios mat­ri­mo­niales (1571) by Pedro de Luján, alongside the thir­teenth century Cantiga 48 from the Cantigas de Santa María, La virgen de la leche (1465) by Bermejo and Virgen con el Niño (c.1500) by Pedro Berruguete. These works help under­stand how breastmilk and breast­feeding was under­stood as both a social and health practice by dif­ferent audi­ences within Iberian society. In focusing on the late-medieval period (13th century) through the early modern period (16th century), I begin to explore the fem­i­nization of impurity in an early modern Iberian context.

As I con­tinue with this project, I am par­tic­u­larly inter­ested in the reception of images depicting the breast­feeding Virgin Mary by minority figures. As Jews and Muslims do not see images within their own reli­gions practice and lived within an increas­ingly Chris­tian­izing world, I would like to know how they responded a world replete with a nursing Virgin. 

This type of book helps us to under­stand a con­ti­nuity about modern day medical prac­tices and prac­tices con­cerning the body that trace back throughout history. Many of the themes that we see emerging in the chapters deal with topics that are rel­evant today. In par­ticular, the female body has always been com­mented upon and this has not changed!