The Madonna Nursing the Child by the Fountain

Bernard van Orleyc. 1515

Veneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana

Veneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana
Milano, Italy

This exquisite panel by Bernaert van Orley was probably made in about 1516. It shows the Madonna nursing the Child and it has a wealth of symbolic elements. In art history, the wall and the fountain are a reference to the Canticle of Canticles – “My sister, my spouse, is a garden enclosed, a garden enclosed, a fountain sealed up” (Ct 4: 12) – and symbolise the fertile virginity of Mary; the steps behind her indicate that, for the believer, the Virgin is the chosen means that leads to Heaven. Also, between the fountain and the wall, we see blue irises, which recall the Marian title of “Queen of Heaven”, and white lilies, which symbolise the “Mother most pure” and the “Mother most chaste”, as referred to in the Loreto Litanies. In the background on the right, there is a building and the figure of Joseph, and on the left, in lush, peaceful vegetation, we see some men and animals, the symbolism of which is however not clear.


  • Title: The Madonna Nursing the Child by the Fountain
  • Creator: Bernaert van Orley
  • Date Created: c. 1515
  • Physical Dimensions: 67 x 52 cm
  • Type: Painting
  • Medium: Oil
  • Art Genre: Sacred art
  • Art Movement: 16th century Flemish painting
  • Art Form: Painting
  • Support: Panel
  • Depicted Topic: Madonna, christ Child, Saint Joseph, meadow, flowers, fountain, landscape, book of prayers

Get the app

Explore museums and play with Art Transfer, Pocket Galleries, Art Selfie, and more

Flash this QR Code to get the app
Google apps