The Art Of Christmas – a talk by Valerie Woodgate on December
Valerie began by telling us that she endeavours to use paintings from Galleries that we can visit and see the paintings for ourselves. Valerie then took us through a fascinating story of how the Christmas story is shown in art throughout the centuries and with different interpretations.
The birth of Jesus is relayed in only two of the gospels so painters had only these two accounts to use.
The early painting by Duccio in 1311 ( in the National Gallery ) is part of a larger painting . The wings are purely symbolic. Duccio tells the story through body language and colour. The angel has ethereal colours and the colours of Mary are very earthly. The divide between Mary and the Angel appears very often in Italian art.
There are similarities with the Fra Angelica painting of 1435 (currently in the Prado ) – the blue robe and the expression of humility On the left can be seen Adam and Eve – a mixing of the Old and New Testaments. Augustine said that the Old Testament is the New Testament covered in a veil, and the New Testament is the Old Testament unveiled. Mary was known as the new Eve and Jesus was the new Adam
The altarpiece attributed to Thomas Camin is set indoors in comparison to the Italian paintings. Instead of a dove we have a child himself. The clear glass symbolises the virgin’s womb and the child is coming through the glass. The white lily shows purity.
The Annunciation by Grunewald 1512-16 depicts Mary still reading
In the ‘Census at Bethlehem’ by Jan Bruegel the Elder from the 16th century was painted at a time when people were expected to pay half of their monies and crops to the Hapsburgs of Spain and this can be seen in the painting.
The ‘Mystic Nativity’ by Boticelli (National Gallery ) was painted at a time when people were afraid that the world was ending thus the Virgin was painted very large- too large in fact for the stable.
Valerie then talked to us about the paintings of the visits by the shepherds. Paintings of the shepherds did not appear until 1500.
Compared to Poussin’s painting, the ‘Adoration of the Shepherds’ by Rembrandt – 1646 shows how the artist has used light to draw attention to the baby. There is also a feeling of humility which is not in the Poussin painting.
Valerie then concluded her lecture with paintings of the Kings.
The Adoration of the Kings by Jan Gossaert from the early 16th century (in the National Gallery) is a most beautiful painting where the kings represent the ages of man and different parts of the world.
The painting of ‘The Adoration of the Kings’ by Pieter Bruegel the Elder is so very different – the kings are wearing glorious robes and the child is shrinking away as myrrh is being offered (which depicts death)
We were all enthused by this very fascinating and comprehensive study of Christmas art.