An der Brust des Herrn. Maternal Gestures and the Christian God in 16th- and 17th-Century Art

Torben Hanhart, MSt

The project investigates sixteenth- and seventeenth-century depictions of the Christian Godhead, in which the gestural repertoire of the Trinitarian Persons evokes maternal iconographies. It discusses, for example, images that draw an analogy between Christ offering the side wound to a devotee and a breastfeeding mother. The corpus of this project comprises depictions from Italy and Flanders that were created for catholic commissioners and audiences, and pays particular attention to Jesuit visual culture.
The images at hand speak of a remarkable intimacy among the Trinitarian Persons and their immediate approachability. The project therefore offers a close examination of the underlying notions of God – Gottesbilder – and casts into relief the images’ relationship with Bible verses and contemporary written sources that speak of the Trinitarian Persons as mother. In doing so, the project puts particular empha-sis on the relationship between God and humankind that is conveyed in these images and that unfolds along the ways in which viewers interacted with them.
Secondly, the corpus is discussed in the wider context of its contemporary visual culture. Focal points of interest are the Masculinities and models of Fatherhood embedded in these images as well as the corpus’ interrelations with the Virgin Mary and her catholic devotion. The project thus widens the scope of previous scholarship in the field, that had largely focused on the challenges posed to the cult of Mary in Reformation-Era piety.

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