Document Type

Restricted Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Art History


While art depicting bare breasts was nothing new to audiences in the Middle Ages, emerging themes associated with them gained popularity and developed new meanings for them in the fourteenth century. Issues regarding fertility and breastfeeding became pertinent with the arrival of famine and the bubonic plague in Europe and allowed for scenes such as the Maria lactans, or nursing Madonna, to find their place in the canon of devotional themes. The paintings humanized the Virgin through her breasts and some versions of the composition depicted her as a contemporary woman. Once these images were commonly accepted, artists and patrons could begin depicting the breasts of women who were actually their contemporaries. They manipulated breasts to suit the spiritual, psychological, or erotic needs of the viewer so that the breast became a multivalent symbol whose meaning varied depending on the setting in which it was employed.


Note: Access to this thesis is restricted to Skidmore community.