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Indian Miniature Depicts Rare Marian Iconography

By Jillian Ewalt and Sarah Burke Cahalan

The Marian Library recently acquired a rare Indian miniature painting depicting the Virgin Mary feeding the Christ child with a spoon, created circa 1570. 

In the 1550s, the first European Jesuit missionaries came to the Malabar Coast of India to convert the local population to Christianity. They brought paintings, prints and illustrated Bibles from Europe to convey the Christian message. Soon Indian artists started to reproduce these, and the present miniature painting is a striking example. 

The painting is believed to have originated in the pre-Mughal Bijapur region. Most of the imagery associated with the region, particularly during the Mughal period, depicted Mary nursing Jesus with a bare breast. This image is unusual in that it depicts Mary feeding Jesus with a spoon.

Several sources suggest that the painting was completed by the Circle of the Dublin Painter. For example, the floral motifs bear strong resemblance to the work by the artist. Additionally, the same facial characteristics, particularly the slender, elongated neck of Mary, are also apparent in works by the Dublin Painter.

The image is small, approximately 9 by 9.5 centimeters, and made from opaque watercolor and gold on Indian paper.

India is an important region for the Society of Mary, the religious order that founded the University of Dayton and the Marian Library. Other Indian collection items in the Marian Library include the Virgin Mary depicted in batik and delicate paintings applied to the leaves of the bodhi, or banyan, tree.

For more information about this image or the Marian Library’s collection, see the Marian Library website or email marianlibrary@udayton.edu

Jillian Ewalt is a librarian for visual resources in the Marian Library and Sarah Burke Cahalan is the director of the Marian Library.

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