The Virgin gently cradles her son. Luis de Morales sensitively observes the instinctive gesture of the newborn baby tucking his hand through her red gown searching for milk. Mother and child lean into each other, their gazes tenderly interlocking.
Morales explores the sense of touch through both the figures‘ gestures and their fabrics, which range from a soft transparent veil to the heavy folds of the Virgin’s blue mantle. His close observation of detail extends to the figures’ individually painted eyelashes and hairs.
The Virgin and Child, sculpted by a soft light, emerge from a pitch-dark background – a smoky effect that recalls the figures in Leonardo da Vinci’s paintings. The small format suggests that the panel was intended for private devotion. Morales was active in the Spanish region of Extremadura and painted several of these small devotional paintings for the clergy and private clients there.
The Virgin gently cradles her son. Luis de Morales sensitively observes the instinctive gesture of the newborn baby as he tucks his hand through her red gown searching for milk. Mother and child lean into each other, their gazes tenderly interlocking.
The Virgin and Child, sculpted by a soft light, emerge from a pitch-dark background. This smoky effect, known as sfumato, recalls Leonardo da Vinci’s paintings. The figures' pale skin and elongated features as well as the pronounced folds recall the style of Flemish masters such as Pedro Campaña, a contemporary of Morales who was active in Seville. Living and working in the nearby region of Extremadura, Morales might have travelled to Seville to see his work.
The theme of the nursing Madonna is implied but not explicit. Although there are some examples of Christ being breastfed in Spanish sixteenth-century painting, such as El Greco’s Holy Family at Toledo’s Hospital de Tavera, increasing censorship of nudity led to a decline in these images. The Spanish Inquisition, established in 1478, was especially strict on these matters, which also explains the limited presence of nudes in Spanish paintings up to the early nineteenth century.
Morales painted several versions of this composition, of which four are in the Prado, Madrid. Three are slightly larger and include minor variations in the position of the Virgin’s left hand. The fourth extends down to the Virgin’s knees, revealing the Christ Child’s legs moving impatiently. Other versions of this subject were also painted by Morales’s workshop, on which he relied to complete his increasing number of commissions. These versions were painted during the 1560s when Morales was under the patronage of Juan de Ribera (1532–1611), Bishop of Badajoz, for whom he painted several small devotional paintings on the theme of the Virgin Mary and scenes of Christ’s Passion. The small format suggests that this panel was intended for private devotion.
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