Christmas in fine art Part 1

How at different times looked like the main characters of this story, which sources quoted the artists that influenced the choice of items and how different people at different times saw one and the same event: we explain on the example of six works.

Christmas is one of the most popular themes of European painting, changing along with it. Medieval paintings of artists retell in detail to illiterate parishioners the stories from the Scriptures. To the XV century, the focus shifts to Mary, the baby, and the accomplished miracle. Many symbolic details help unravel the author’s intent. In the painting of the XVII century the main — light and light effects: a cave or a shed are depicted in the twilight, while the figures gathered around the manger stand in the light. In a later era, artists are less interested in a traditional religious story. They depart from tradition and paint your own image of Christmas.

Image result for Mosaics of the Cappella Palatina in Palermo

Mosaics of the Cappella Palatina in Palermo

When the Roman Emperor Augustus declared a census of the population, its residents went to the city where they were born. Among them were Joseph and Mary. They went to Bethlehem, but the hotel was not, so had to spend the night in a room for livestock. There Jesus was born. Mary swaddled the infant and laid in a manger. At this time, the angels appeared to the shepherds announcing to them the birth of the Son of God, and the star showed the Magi the way to the manager of the King of Judah. So briefly describe the Christmas evangelists Matthew and Luke. But in early Christian and medieval images of the Nativity characters, of which the gospel says nothing. This two midwives, Zelomi and Salome, and the ox with a donkey. Stories not included in the Scripture of the legends — the Apocrypha and medieval legends.

On the mosaic Cappella Palatina in Palermo, the box with the donkey look in the nursery, and Zelomi and Salome bathed baby. When Maria went into labor, Joseph went for the midwives, but it was too late: by the time they arrived, Jesus was already born. The cave was flooded with bright light. Selma visited Mary and realized that she remained a virgin, and Salome did not believe her. Beyond doubt she was punished: the midwife withered hand, and only prayer and touching the diaper to heal her. Already in the IV century, this legend has caused discontent of the Church, and yet midwives continued to portray.

The ox and the donkey to Bethlehem, Joseph took: box for sale, and the donkey Mary rode. Unlike midwives, this plot is not satisfactory: it is difficult to imagine Christmas in the barn without animals. Animals are not only reminded of the modesty and simplicity of the first days of Jesus ‘ life, as their appearance was a confirmation of the words of the prophet Isaiah: “the Ox knows his owner and the ass his master’s crib, but Israel doth not know, My people doth not consider” (ISA. 1:3).

Image result for Niccolo di Tommaso. The vision of the Nativity of Saint Brigit

Niccolo di Tommaso. “The vision of the Nativity of Saint Brigit”

In the center of the composition — surrounded by a Golden glow of Maria and the baby. The shepherds sitting in the distance, a silhouette of Joseph follows the outline of the roof of the cave, which emphasizes its isolation from the main scene. This is one of the first images of the Nativity of a new type, which tells not so much about the events in Bethlehem, but about the accomplishment of the miracle, about the first meeting and communion of Mary with her son. Such iconography reflected the religiosity of the late middle Ages mystical, prone to emotional experiences. The source of this story — the vision of the Swedish St. Bridget, the founder of the order brigantines, which is shown in the lower right corner of the picture.

In 1344, after the death of her husband, she withdrew from the world and devoted his life to prayer. Soon she began to visit different visions, and during a pilgrimage to the Holy land, she opened the events of Christmas night. She saw Joseph leaving the lit candle, left the cave, and Maria, removing the cloak, began to pray. At this time, in one moment the baby was born, from which came such a brilliant light that the candle flame disappears. Birgitta describes Mary, tenderly bending overlying on the cold floor as a baby. This scene is the worship of Christ will later portray many artists. Among these paintings, “the Adoration of the Magi” by Stefan Lochner (1440), “Christmas” Rogier van der Weyden (CA. 1452), “Adoration of the Christ child” by Filippino Lippi (CA. 1480).

Image result for Petrus Christus. "Christmas"

Petrus Christus. “Christmas”

Petrus Christus divides the composition into three plans. On the first picture arch with scenes from the book of Genesis. The columns Adam and Eve bite the fruit of the tree of knowledge. In the expulsion from Paradise, labors of Adam and eve and the murder of Abel. In the last scene, no longer young Adam and eve escorted off one of his sons. This refers to either the exile of Cain in the country of nod or the story of their third son Seth. According to the apocryphal gospel of Nicodemus, written in about the V century, Seth went to heaven with the branch of the tree of knowledge to heal the aging Adam. After his father’s death he planted the branch on his grave, and millennia later, there grew a tree: and it was made the cross on which Christ was crucified. This story appears in “the Golden legend” — the most famous in the Middle ages the Christian tradition, compiled in the thirteenth century. If the latter relief is dedicated to Seth, the image in front of the Expulsion from Eden alludes to the future salvation.

The scene is actually Christmas. It is important to pay attention to two, at first sight, imperceptible detail: at the boots lying next to Joseph and beams sticking out of the branch with fresh leaves. They refer to two old Testament stories which the Middle ages saw the instructions on the immaculate conception and Christmas. First, this is the story of the rod of the high priest Aaron’s budded as proof of his right to serve God and the burning Bush — on fire but not burning Bush from which God spoke to Moses. The rod miraculously empty shoots, and untouched by fire in a Bush anticipated the virgin birth. The location of the branches directly over the baby pushes out the viewer thinking about its meaning and reminded of the shots, which gave the staff of Aaron. It also alludes to the harmony of two Latin words, Virgo (virgin) and virga (branch).

Shoes Joseph remind the viewer of Moses, who took off his shoes, approaching the Bush. In the popular illustrated Bibles, Christmas, Aaron’s rod and Moses before the burning Bush is often depicted next. The symbolism of the Christus is somewhat more complicated: most likely, he is counting on an educated and devout audience.

The long-range plan for the future — the death and resurrection of Christ. Behind the barn is visible from the city of Bruges, among the buildings stands the Church of Jerusalem, built in Bruges, in 1428. Such churches in Europe was pretty much their plan and dedication reminiscent of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Way tomb Christus completes his narrative.

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