This engrossing work of original research is the first to consider how the breast has been perceived in the Western world from ancient days to the present — how it has been understood in religion, in the arts, in medicine, in psychoanalysis (by Freud as erotically secondary to the phallus, then by Melanie Klein as the original object of desire).
From the Egyptian goddess Isis, who conferred divinity and immortality on those who fed from her breasts, to the legend of the founder of Rome — Romulus and Remus — suckled by a she-wolf, Marilyn Yalom's book reveals how in ancient times the breast was viewed as an object of veneration, of sustenance. She shows how in early Christian imagery the female body was seen as a threat to spiritual life, and then as the embodiment of Christian charity and purity in the paintings of the Virgin suckling the Christ Child in the Madonna-del-latte paintings of the fourteenth century.
Yalom describes how during the plague of the middle ages the breast was perceived as comforting and nurturing; how it figured in art, from the Florentine paintings of Mother and Child to Vermeer's Procuress, and from the paintings of Delacroix and Mary Cassatt to the sculpture of Louise Bourgeois. How the breast has been defined by women themselves, by their lovers, by moralists and pornographers. How it has appeared to writers from Shakespeare, Fanny Burney (describing her own mastectomy in 1811), and Tolstoy (whose fierce advocacy of nursing surfaces in Anna Karenina: Kitty, the good mother, nurses her baby; Anna, the bad mother, does not) to John Steinbeck, Italo Calvino, and Adrienne Rich. How the breast has been portrayed in photography and film. How the bare-breasted woman became a symbol in propaganda during the French Revolution and the two World Wars. Marilyn Yalom has given us a pioneering cultural history that is authoritative, astute, richly allusive — and wholly engrossing.