Monday, December 21, 2009

The Adoration of the Shepherds

above, Corregio

Xave a xolly Jolly Xmas, its the best time of the year! Xappy Xollidays! Xo,xo, xo Merry Xmas!
I'll be xome for xmas, youx can count on me! Phrosteee the xnowman! Xrudolph the xred nosed xreindeer, Xad a very Xhiny noxe.

OK, here's the scripture;
And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.2(And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) 3And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. 4And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)5To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.6And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.7And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.8And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night 9And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

10And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.11For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.12And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,14Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.15And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.16And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.17And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.18And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. 19But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.

Artists have loved the adoration of the shepherds for a number of reasons. First of all you have the great event, angels, some local rustics, maybe some barnyard animals and weird backcountry architecture, but more than that ITS A NIGHT SCENE! all suffused with awe and holiness. That's a marvelous opportunity for a painter. Painters have used dramatic lighting, like in the Rembrandt above.That is an absolutely stunning picture by the way. Rembrandts Christ in born in a stable, and he knew what a stable was and he knew what Shepherds looked like too.Notice the big areas of darks in both pictures above and how they "sew" the pictures together. The light effect in this Rembrandt is so great, and he has all the possible variations going on too. He has Christ as a light source, the holy family and their visitors are illuminated by that light, and a figure cuts in front of it.That even further capitalize on the pictorial devices made available by his use of this light source. But most importantly I think Rembrandt has created a scene of awe and hushed reverence. These people are aware of the giant importance of what they are seeing. I don't really think there are a lot of better paintings than this one, but as I said before, Rembrandt is the Beatles of painting.

This is a Boucher, he takes a very different approach, his painting is decorative and very stylized. He was a mannerist painter and everything he did was that way. A very different approach, I think less effective too, but its still great painting. Everything in it is arrayed in a sort of swooping inverted arc, like a big U shape with Christ placed at the balance point. Boucher is a generation or so later than Rembrandt and his art is a revolution away from that dark style and is considered Rococo. Incidentally the famous and wonderful quote from Boucher is "Nature is too green, and badly lit" wouldn't that make a great neck tattoo for a landscape painter?
Xmerri Xmas!

images from


Unknown said...

(cough, sneeze, cough) Oh how I love all three of those. The Rembrandt, is, yes, the most moving. Though I want to tell that guy with the lantern to please be careful around all that hay.
The humble nature of the incarnation as depicted in all these paintings always makes me take pause to think.
That Boucher is lovely - the arrangement of those figures is beautiful. i can't quite tell.. are those dead chickens down there by Mary's feet, along with the eggs, perhaps brought as a gift? And the child has 2 pigeons, maybe also as a gift? I like that.
I might have to get that tattoo.

Roxanne Steed said...

hehe, great tattoo idea! But I especially love the comparisons in the last two posts (doing catch-up reading this evening). Hope this flu has left you & you're well again soon!

Philip Koch said...

"Rembrandt is the Beatles of painting" and the suggestion of the Boucher quote as a neck tattoo have catapulted Stapleton into my legion of heroes for all time. You just can't get this sort of commentary anywhere else.

The Rembrandt painting is very fine indeed. Whatever sincerity looks like, this is a painting that give it visual form. Great movement around the canvas.

Tom said...

That Boucher quote is great and true and funny. Living in the D C area everything is green green and green in the summer. It has taken me so long to realize if you understand how things work you are not at the mercy of the model.

billspaintingmn said...

My neck tattoo will read: Rembrandt
is the Beatles of painting.
That's great Stape!
To do these posts in your condition
is inspiration to persevere.
I've never seen these paintings before so I'm in awe. Thank you!
(Stape, Deb, get well soon.)

Stapleton Kearns said...


Those are gifts I think.Dead birds were a common gift before Flexible Flyers and Daisy BB guns.The kid is holding some packets of seeds received from selling GRIT a magazine of some sort.That child might actually be Chatty Cathy.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Yes I am functional again and am looking forward to Christmas.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I am flattered to be catapulted, I think that might not work on your students who knows if they even know who the Beatles were.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Its funny to think that Boucher had to deal with the same problems that we do.He didn't paint what he saw.The next time someone says that each artist sees things a little differently I will use that quote.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Go with the bold text.Do they still do the Christmas display on the 5th floor of Daytons, or whatever they call it now?