Madonna and Child, about 1500
What’s the backstory?
The early catholic church relied on heavily coated imagery To convey its message. Faithful Christians would have recognized this picture as the Maria Lactans, or lactating Virgin. Mary pulls aside her dress as the infant Christ reaches for her breast to receive the sustenance that she as the embodiment of the church, provides. The Christ child looks directly at us to ensure we get the message. .
When the council of Trent clarified Christian doctrine in 1563, nudity was discouraged in religious art and the image of the nursing virgin fell from favor.