CFP for edited collection: The Virgin’s Milk, Oil, Sweat, and Tears in Global Perspective: On the Fluidity of Images and the Politics of Divine Presence

Sheila McManus's picture

This collection will explore the depiction and/or miraculous appearance of the Madonna’s body fluids in different religious, temporal, geographical, and political contexts. At the center of our investigation is the border-crossing, transformative, and possibly subversive issuance of the Virgin’s body fluids for and toward the believing Christian – and sometimes Muslim – beholder, which has the capacity to work miracles and provide proof of her living, divine presence in an inclusive manner. Sometimes, the Virgin Mary is represented in the act of crying and lactating, soliciting her beholder’s empathy and harboring the promise of her miraculous appearance, respectively; at other occasions, her likeness, depicted on a wooden icon, issues forth salvific sweat or oil for the devout onlooker in an immediate, i.e. unmediated, or better: trans-medial, manner. 


The present volume will examine the visual manifestations of the Virgin’s fluids across times in different political, religious, and cultural settings (be they imperial, colonial, syncretistic, hybrid, indigenous, Christian, Islamic, and other). Among the questions it asks is what political, cultural, or religious aims were served by the production of divine and eroticized immediacy? How exactly did depictions of the Virgin Mary in the process of shedding her miraculous body fluids, as well as the display of “living” icons that bore her presence and issued forth salvific liquids, achieve their strong emotional address to multiple and diverse audiences? How did these representations work in their respective cultural contexts, and how can we parse their complex and hybrid entanglements? How did specific artworks participate in a global circuit such as Robert Campin’s much-copied Nursing Virgin, which re-appeared in sixteenth-century Japan, seventeenth-century Peru, and eighteenth-century Ethiopia? How come that medieval Muslims in Al-Andalus and Mughal artists of the late sixteenth century were attracted to the imagery?


We invite contributions of ca. 8000 words in length, centering around one or several images and/or icons of the Nursing Virgin and affiliated imagery that produce the above-mentioned immediacy and sensorial effects, and which participate in the shared “cultural promise” of “evolving webs of [global] relationality and address” [Roelofs 2014: 204]. Proposals are due by October 31, 2021. At that point, we will work to secure a contract for publication. In late February of 2022, we will hold a hybrid conference for all contributors at the Renaissance Center in Amherst, Massachusetts to present and discuss their paper proposals and works in progress. International and otherwise distant contributors might have to participate via zoom given budgetary restraints. This conference will facilitate a conversation across the various disciplines, and ensure greater cross-referencing and interpretative and analytical coherence. By December 31, 2022, all contributions should be delivered. Please send all inquiries and communications to


Conceptual and Editorial Committee:

Jutta Sperling, Visiting Professor of History, Amherst College, and Professor of History and Visual Culture (on leave), Hampshire College (Principal Organizer).

Mati Meyer, Professor of Art History, The Open University of Israel (Byzantine Art).

Vibeke Olson, Professor of Art History, University of North Carolina, Wilmington (European Medieval Art).

Gal Ventura, Professor of Art History, Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Modern Art).