Thursday, December 23, 2010

More of the Christmas story, illustrated

The verse I am presenting tonight from the book of Luke, chapter 2 occurs before that I posted last night. The blog is more a stream of consciousness affair than an orderly exposition, so here we are, backing through the gospel of Luke. There are so many paintings of the nativity to choose from, I chose those I thought were compelling artistically. Again I think the best is the Rembrandt, even with the little angels flying around in the corner it feels more real and less "mannered". Marys gentle gesture as she lifts the drape on the cradle to view the Christ child is poignant and expressive of a mothers love for a child. Rembrandt always had a gift for creating human expressions and gestures so universal that they still communicate effortlessly to our own time. This painting isn't strictly speaking a nativity scene and is entitled "The Holy Family", but it seemed to fit with the theme tonight. The text from Luke begins below.

1And 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.

Above is a Bouguereau which isn't a nativity scene either, but I thought it so beautiful that I included it, I also wanted to get a 19th century image in here as I have so many that are baroque. Below is a Raphael Madonna whose face shows exquisite tenderness. The painting by Raphael, sometimes called the Prince of Painters, is so lovely that the Rembrandt may be second to it. It is classical though and that is a more difficult taste for contemporary viewers. The Rembrandt is probably more approachable today. What do you think?

Below is the door to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem built over the cave where Christ is believed to have been born. Caves were used as shelter for livestock in biblical times. The church on this location dates back to 327, but the current structure was built in 565 AD, making it one of the oldest continually operating churches in the world. A text by Origen of Alexandria and early Christian scholar refers to the cave in the early 2nd century saying "In Bethlehem the cave is pointed out where He was born, and the manger in the cave where He was wrapped in swaddling clothes. And the rumor is in those places, and among foreigners of the Faith, that indeed Jesus was born in this cave who is worshiped and reverenced by the Christians"

Tradition has it that he was born at the spot marked by a silver cross beneath the altar below.

Art from, from the top descending, Rembrandt, Georges De La Tour, Lotto, Barochi, Bouguereau, Raphael.


Unknown said...

the Raphael Madonna is pure lovliness (not so much the Christ child though). But the gesture of Rembrandt's Mary is appealing and, like you said, approachable. And there's Joseph, working at his carpentry in the background.
The Bouguereau might be my favorite though.

Mary Byrom said...

Yes, Raphael is a Prince- Mary's expression is priceless...and Rembrandt is earthy...but Bouguereau winds hands down for celestial beings...feels like heaven... bring on the angels...

Mike Thompson said...

My favorite Madonna and Child is Bouguereau's ''Song of the Angels''. It is much less formal than today's Bouguereau and conveys a much different feel.

Generally I find that classical poses are too stiff to seem normal in today's casual world. But every painting stands on its own merits and there are plenty of classical works that still pack a powerful punch. I think the Rembrandt and Raphael are so different that comparison is not really fair. Interestingly, when I think about the normalness of the Rembrandt vs the Raphael, the Rembrandt seems much more every day - which, of course, was how the Holy Family would appear if you dropped in on them to see if Mary wanted to run down to the open market with you or if Joseph could fix your broken shelf - and makes the painting more personally meaningful.

OK - change of subject:

- When did halos appear to denote saintly and divine subjects and why did so many artists adopt them?

- Same two questions about angel wings. If you look at birds, the chest muscles would make angels look like barrels with legs and wings but that would make them far less appealing. Also, how do you get those gorgeous linen gowns on over the wings without bending the feathers?

- Scripture frequently reports terror upon the arrival of angels. Is it the wings, the flying, or the unnatural glow of quark emissions so soon after passing from one sort of multidimensional space to our sort of multidimensional space? ''Flatland'' describes how enclosed spaces in N dimensions are open spaces to beings in N+1 dimensions. Even when you lock the doors and pull the shades, remember, angels can track you down.

Anonymous said...

Dear Stape, At the end of this second year with your blog, I cannot express in words the value you have so generously and tirelessly shared with gives me goosebumps! It has blessed my life, and I will always be grateful. Best wishes for you, Kathleen and family for a blessed Christmas filled with joy and peace.
A little aside from a greatgrandmother, whose greatgrandmother died at 103 when my children were in highschool. In the days of the little cupids the infant motality rate must have been awful, in the 1800's at least out here in the west it still was, most in the first few months. When I see those cherubs, I see those families dealing with those expected losses by thinking about their babies as chubby spirits still with them, bringing them grace and a little joy in their loss. There were so many each home was filled with little spirits. Many generations before our time considered it a miracle that the Christ child survived, in such lowly circumstances. A reminder that in our survival , our own lives are so precious.
A blessed and beautiful Christmas to all, Terry

Stapleton Kearns said...

Deb; I don't like the child so much either. I suppose taste in children has changed a lot.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I love the Bouguereau too, but next to the Raphael it feels a little light.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Byzantine art used halos, they may go back further than that. I will have to research that.
The gowns on angels zip up the back, so the wings are not a problem.
The reason that angels are so scary is that when you see them, God is no longer a matter of faith,you are confronted with the undeniable evidence and must process that on the spot. Most people no doubt come up wanting.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks. My grandfather was the only child of five to survive childhood.I have a picture of he and a little brother who died when he was about five in 1906.

Casey Klahn said...

Stape. Excellent post, and I just paged through your year of blogging in 2010.

Great teaching, much humor and sagacity is everywhere. Thanks for being there, and I will read some more.

Merry Christmas!