Early last century, an idea was taken-up which is now, in the US alone, a $20 billion industry, and yesterday Mother’s Day was celebrated around the world. However, here in the UK we honour our mothers in March, so why the difference? Well, our Mothering Sunday is connected to Easter, specifically the 4th Sunday in Lent, and initially was focussed on the mother church, allied to a notion of religious succour and nurture. It is but a short step for this concept to encompass a mother’s love for her children.
In this fine bronze we see the child Horus seated on the lap of his mother, Isis. He has a thick plaited curl on his right temple, called the side-lock of youth, and wears the blue crown decorated with stamped circles and uraeus (a rearing cobra) but is otherwise naked except for bracelets, armlets and a broad collar necklace, which proclaim his regal divinity. One leg is held slightly higher than the other, as if squirming, whilst his mother’s left hand supports his head as she holds her other to her breast, to nurse her child.
She is similarly adorned, though wears a long, close-fitting dress and a thick wig with an elaborate vulture headdress (see the wings behind her ears, the tail at the back?) and is crowned with a disc set between horns; her eyes inlaid with silver.
Isis was worshipped chiefly as the mother of the child-god Horus (Harpocrates) and was seen as the Queen of the Universe. She helped to protect children and their mothers from dangerous animals and evil spirits.
The notion of a caring mother-goddess runs throughout civilisation and was of course later taken up by Christianity. The Madonna of the early Renaissance, the blue-mantled virgin seen in the paintings of Bellini, for instance, a young woman to whom one prayed for help and intercedence, can be traced through orthodox icons back to this simple, loving depiction: a young mother, seated with her child, gently encouraging him to her sustaining breast.
Isis nursing Horus
Late Dynastic Period, 25-26 Dynasty, 747-525 BC
Nicholas Tano, prior to 1924