Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas 2014 - Nativity Scenes in Art

18th Century Neapolitan ornaments on the  Metropolitan Christmas Tree
 Collected by Loretta Hines Howard since 1925 and on view since 1957, 
over 200 figures were donated in 1964;  Linn Howard, Loretta's daughter, 
still dresses the tree with her daughter, Andrea Selby  
Made possible by gifts to The Christmas Tree Fund and the Loretta Hines Howard Fund.

The Metropolitan Museum's Christmas Tree is a seasonal favorite. Fully decorated by Thanksgiving Weekend, it remains one of the time-honored traditions for New Yorkers and visitors, who seek out the best holiday displays all around the town. This year the tree will be on view through January 6th: Epiphany.

 Neapolitan Baroque Crèche 

As we look at this magnificent  Baroque Nativity scene, arranged at the front of the Metropolitan's Christmas Tree, we might wonder when the Nativity scene in art began.  According to contemporary literature on the subject, we believe that the earliest Nativity scenes appear on sarcophagi in the 4th century, when Emperor Constantine permitted public worship and the building of churches:

Nativity, Stilicho's Sarcophigus, 4th century, 
Sant'Ambrogio Basilica, Milan

In the East, Byzantine depictions follow the description of Christ's birth found in the Gospel of James, which sets the joyous occasion in a cave:

Nativity, Byzantine, ivory, 10th century, Louvre 

Nativity, Daphni Monastery, 11th century

Later artistic interpretations relied on the Gospel of Luke and Matthew, in which the birth takes place outside an inn and the Christ Child is placed in a manger.

Nicola Pisano, Nativity, Pulpit, Baptistery, Pisa, c. 1260

Giovanni Pisano, Nativity, Pulpit of Sant Andrea, Pistoia c. 1300

Early Netherlandish and other late medieval works in northern European found inspiration in the 14th century visionary texts of St. Bridget of Sweden, who described  the Virgin Mary kneeling over the Christ Child laying on a bed of straw, radiating light: 

Hugo van der Goes, Nativity, Portinari Altarpiece,c. 1476-8, 
Uffizi Gallery, Florence

The mystery and miracle of Christ's birth finds several expressions in the history of art - peace and love, exultation and song, spiritual meditation and faithful devotion:  

Alessandro Botticelli, Mystical Nativity, c, 1500, 
National Gallery, London

George de la Tour, The Newborn Christ, 1645-7, 
Museum of Fine Art, Rennes

El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos), Adoration of the Shepherds, 1605-10
Metropolitan Museum of Art (part of the El Greco exhibition through February 1)

Matthias Grunewald, Nativity, Isenheim Altarpiece, 1510-15
Musée d'Unterlinden, Colmar, France

Feliz Navidad 

 Merry Christmas

Joyeux Noël

Fröhliche Weihnachten

Feliz Natal!

from all of us at
New York Arts Exchange

Beth New York
aka. Beth S. Gersh-Nesic, Ph.D.

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