The mother and her child – 31 December 2018

Here is a picture of the Virgin Mary feeding her infant, intended for private devotion in a domestic space. The scene is intimate and homely. The infant Jesus plays with a spoon while he is fed milk soup. The Virgin could be any young mother from Bruges. The window in the background gives a view of a contemporary townscape, while inside the room everyday objects can be seen: a jug, a vase of flowers, a basket, and a prayer book. The Virgin and her child become part of the family, they live with the viewer, who is drawn into their life.

Those that prayed with this picture would understand that as the mother feeds her child, so they as believers were fed by Christ himself through the Church. The jug and the bread allude to the bread and wine of the Eucharist. This is a picture that makes the incarnation clear, the infant’s body displayed through his fine linen shirt. Fully human, this child is the saviour of the world.

The picture, known as Virgin and Child with milk soup c1520, is by Gerard David. Using a cartoon as his base, David painted several versions, placing the everyday objects differently to suit his clients. The demand for these pictures reflects a growing pattern of private devotion in the home.


And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favour of God was upon him.

Luke 2:40

Hail, o star of the ocean,
God’s own Mother blest,
ever sinless Virgin,
gate of heav’nly rest.

Show thyself a Mother,
may the Word divine
born for us thine Infant
hear our prayers through thine.

Virgin all excelling,
mildest of the mild,
free from guilt preserve us
meek and undefiled.

Keep our life all spotless,
make our way secure
till we find in Jesus,
joy for evermore.

Ave maris stella, selected verses