There are insights and truths beyond the ability of words to tell.
When it comes to telling the Christmas Story it seems to me that the great Painters down the ages have provided in paint, in light and shadow, searching insights and truths that still resound.
Take some time and let the Story unfold.
Piero della Francesca (1415 – 1492 ) ‘Madonna del Parto’
I know of no work of art which captures the sense of awed anticipation surrounding the nativity story with such tenderness as Piero della Francesca’s, ‘Madonna del Parto’.
Piero somehow manages to make present through drawing and paint both the vulnerability of Mary in all her humanity and the immanent divine.
Fra Angelico (1395 – 1455 ) – The Annunciation
This painting by Fra Angelico has long haunted my imagination since I first saw it in The Convent of San Marco in Florence.
It is a representation of an epochal event, The Annunciation, which holds human time and eternity in perfect balance.
Federico Barocci (1535 – 1612 ) – Nativity
There is nothing more intimate than the bond between a mother and child after a birth.
This intimacy is captured exquisitely by the Master of Urbino, Federico Barocci, in this Nativity which positively glows with the light of love.
Giorgione ( 1477 – 1510 ) – The Adoration of the Shepherds’
Giorgione, a Venetian artist from the period of the High Renaissance, remains a figure of intense mystery.
What we can say from his, ‘The Adoration of the Shepherds’ (NGA Washington) is that he could suspend time and evoke awe and silent wonder.
This painting offers us a profound sense of reverence. The Nativity tableau shows Mary communing with her child as both motherly protector and prayerful worshiper.
Joseph, so often the forgotten man of the narrative, seems overwhelmed by the enormity and mystery of the events he has been caught up in.
Shepherds were ill-regarded outsiders in biblical times.
Yet, it was they who were granted the blessing of an audience with the new born King.
This must be some new type of King who welcomes first the poor and the ragged before the rich and high born.
The sight greeting the Shepherds was beyond words.
Their attitude of humble surrender to an experience beyond their understanding is intensely moving.
Taddeo Gaddi ( 1290 – 1366 ) – ‘The Angelic Announcement to the Shepherds’
The Florentine Taddeo Gaddi was the star pupil of the great Master, Giotto.
His, ‘The Angelic Announcement to the Shepherds’ can be seen in the Baroncelli Chapel within Santa Croce in his native Florence.
It is a wonderfully dramatic painting.
An Angel acts as God’s messenger alerting humankind to an event upon which all history will pivot.
The Sheep are stirring and the Dog’s keen senses alert him to the messenger from afar.
As the Angel speaks eternity merges with linear time.
How could the waking Shepherd find the words to tell his sleeping companion what he has learned?
Surely all he could say was:
‘Let us go – someone we must see is waiting for us just down the hill. Come now!’
It is an invitation which remains open.
St Bridget of Sweden had a mystic vision of The Nativity.
The painting by the Flemish artist Geertgen tot Sint Jans makes that ineffable vision a reality before our eyes and in our hearts through virtuoso deployment of light and shadow.
Looking at this tender scene we remember Christ’s statement:
‘ I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.’
More Paintings tomorrow!