Friday, December 25, 2009

Return of the Holy Family from Egypt

Title: Return of the Holy Family from Egypt

Artist: Jacob Jordaens

Medium: Oil on oak

Size: 63 x 50 cm

Date: c. 1616

Location: Staatliche Museen, Berlin.

As recorded in Matthew 2:19-23, after Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared again in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, "Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child's life are dead." So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: "He will be called a Nazarene."

Every unjust empire in history has ultimately fallen, but God's church continues to endure. To oppressed Christians, whether persecuted for their faith or repressed for other unjust reasons, this reminder of the oppressors' mortality is a reminder that all trials are temporary and our loving Father remains in control. The angelic orders to return to the land of Israel because those seeking the child's life were dead explicitly recall Exodus 4:19-20. Jewish readers would have immediately recognized the allusion: like Moses, Jesus had outlived his persecutor and would lead his people to salvation.

Jacob Jordaens (May 19, 1593 - October 18, 1678), was one of three Flemish Baroque painters, along with Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony van Dyck, to bring prestige to the Antwerp school of painting. Like Rubens, he studied under Adam van Noort, who was his only teacher. During this time Jordaens lived in Van Noort's house and became very close to the rest of the family. After several years, in 1616, he married his teacher's eldest daughter, Anna Catharina van Noort, with whom he had three children.

This painting, of a happy family’s triumphant return, is dated from the same year as his own marriage, and shows the Antwerp master working with a new freedom of color and brushwork.

... And, as it states in Luke 2:40 “the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.”


Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Martyrdom of the Holy Innocents

Title: The Martyrdom of the Holy Innocents

Artist: Gustave Doré

Medium: Ink and gouache on paper

Size: 56.5 x 84 cm

Date: c.1868

Location: Private collection.

Matthew 2:16-18 records that when Herod realized that the Magi left and had not reported back to him as requested, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: "A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”

The murder of the children of Bethlehem thus fits what is historically know of Herod's character (he was well know to ruthlessly have his own sons murdered); yet it is not surprising that other early writers do not mention this particular atrocity. Herod's reign was an era of many highly placed political assassinations, and our accounts come from well-to-do reporters focused on the royal house and national events. In such circles the execution of perhaps twenty children in a small town would warrant little attention - except from God.

Matthew does not simply report this act of injustice dispassionately; he chooses an ancient lament from one of the most sorrowful times of his people's history. Jeremiah 31:15 speaks of Rachel weeping for her children, poetically describing the favored mother of Benjamin (standing for all Judah) mourning because her descendants were led into exile. Rachel, who wept from her grave in Bethlehem during the captivity, was now weeping at another, nearer crisis significant in salvation history.

Paul Gustave Doré (January 6, 1832 – January 23, 1883) French artist, the son of a civil engineer, was born at Strassburg. In 1848 he came to Paris and secured a three years engagement on the Journal pour rire. His facility as a draughtsman was extraordinary, and among the books he illustrated in rapid succession were Balzac's Contes drolatiques (1855), Dante's "Inferno" (1861), Don Quixote (1863), The Bible (1866), Paradise Lost (1866), and the works of Rabelais (1873). He painted also many large and ambitious compositions of religious or historical character, and made some success as a sculptor, his statue of Alexandre Dumas in Paris being perhaps his best-known work in this line.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Flight into Egypt

Title: The Flight into Egypt

Artist: James B. Janknegt

Medium: Oil on canvas

Size: 51 x 40 cm

Date: 2008

Location: Private collection.

Matthew 2:14-15 chronicles that after waking from his dream, Joseph got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: "Out of Egypt I called my son."

Matthew declares that Jesus' sojourn in Egypt fulfills Hosea's prophecy. By quoting the beginning of the passage, Matthew evokes the passage as a whole and shows how Jesus is the forerunner of the new exodus, the time of ultimate salvation. Matthew uses God's pattern in history to remind us that our call and destiny must define us. We are the people of the new exodus, the people of God's kingdom. Matthew's quotation from Hosea also reminds us that Jesus identifies with his people's heritage. Jesus appears as the promised one greater than Moses and the heir of God's call to Israel. As God protected Moses when Pharaoh killed the male Israelite children, so God protects Jesus.

James B. Janknegt was born in Austin, Texas. He attended art school at the University of Texas in Austin and graduated with a BFA in 1978. He left Texas and moved to Iowa City to attend graduate school where he worked with Mauricio Lasansky and Joe Patrick among others. Jim has painted in his off hours while working full time in other capacities, and is currently the building manager for the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. His work can be viewed at

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Joseph’s Dream

Title: Joseph’s Dream

Artist: Gaetano Gandolfi

Medium: Oil on canvas

Size: 95 x 76 cm

Date: c. 1790

Location: Private collection.

In Matthew 2:13 it is written that sometime after the magi had departed by their surreptitious route, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. "Get up," he said, "take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him."

Jesus' miraculous escape here should not lead us to overlook the nature of his deliverance (compare, for example, 1 Kings 17:2-6). Jesus and his family survived, but they survived as refugees, abandoning any livelihood Joseph may have had at home as they were undoubtedly traveling lightly. Although travel within Egypt was may have been easy for visitors with means, many Judeans had traditionally regarded refuge in Egypt as a last resort.

Gaetano Gandolfi (August 31, 1734 – June 20, 1802) was a successful artist active in Bologna, whose oeuvre includes about 220 paintings, terracotta sculptures, etchings and a huge number of drawings. From its beginnings, Gaetano's art was brilliant and individual. He had a distinguished academic career and between 1751 and 1756 won two medals for sculpture and four for drawing. In later years, he became increasingly neo-classical. Both stylistically and thematically he seems to have been well aware of Giaquinto as well as artistic currents in France in the 1760s. Gaetano died playing bowls in the church field of S. Egidio, probably of a heart attack, although there is an alternative tradition that he was knocked on the head by a ball.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Holy Family

Title: Holy Family

Artist: El Greco

Medium: Oil on canvas

Size: 106 x 87 cm

Date: 1585

Location: The Hispanic Society of America, New York.

When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord they represented the Holy Family.

Veneration of the Holy Family was formally begun in the 17th century by Mgr François de Laval (30 April 1623 – 6 May 1708), the first Roman Catholic bishop of New France and one of the most influential men of his day. The feast of the Holy Family was instituted by Pope Leo XIII in 1893, and is now observed the Sunday within the Octave of Christmas, that is between Christmas and New Year's Day, or when there is no Sunday within the Octave (if both Christmas Day and New Year's Day are Sundays), it is held on 30 December, a Friday in such years.

It was only after El Greco moved to Spain that he treated the theme of the Madonna and Child in both half-length and full-length format, however, he invariably included St Joseph, in keeping with the new prominence the saint was given in Counter-Reformation theology. The painting of the Hispanic Society of America is one of El Greco's finest paintings and his earliest treatment of the theme. It served as the point of departure for a larger canvas in the Hospital of St John the Baptist in Toledo (Tavera Hospital), in which the composition was enriched by the inclusion of St Anne to the left of the Virgin.

El Greco (1541, Candia - 1614, Toledo) was a Cretan-born painter, sculptor, and architect who settled in Spain, and is regarded as the first great genius of the Spanish School. He was known as El Greco (the Greek), but his real name was Domenikos Theotokopoulos. His workshop turned out a great many replicas of his paintings, but his work was so personal that his influence was slight, his only followers of note being his son Jorge Manuel Theotokopoulos and Luis Tristan. Interest in his art revived at the end of the 19th century and with the development of Expressionism in the 20th century he came into his own. The strangeness of his art has inspired various theories, for example that he was mad or suffered from astigmatism, but his rapturous paintings make complete sense as an expression of the religious fervor of his adopted country.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Anna the Prophetess

Title: Anna the Prophetess

Artist: Louis S. Glanzman

Medium: Mixed media

Size: 55 x 42 cm

Date: c. 2002

Location: tbd

Luke 2:35-38 records that at the temple there was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

Though no details of Anna's prophecy are given, this section completes the cycle of male and female witnesses. Again, Anna's piety is underlined by references to her old age, her faithful widowhood and her regular ministry at the temple. She is full of thanksgiving at the arrival of the child who will complete God's promise, and she speaks about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. Her teaching would have been heard by all who frequented the temple. Her hope, like Simeon's, looks to the completion of what God is starting.

Louis Glanzman was born in 1922, raised in the farmlands of Virginia, and is a self educated artist. He began his career at the age of sixteen as a comic book illustrator. During the 50's he illustrated numerous children's books, including the popular 'Pippi Longstocking' series. Noted as one of America's most prolific illustrators and acclaimed portrait painters he is deeply proud of his many historical paintings. Recently, his 13 portrait series of the Women of the New Testament became the basis for a book of spiritual reflections entitled 'Soul Sisters.' More of his work can be seen at

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Simeon's Song of Praise

Title: Simeon's Song of Praise

Artist: Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn

Medium: Oil on canvas

Size: 99 × 80 cm

Date: 1669

Location: Nationalmuseum, Stockholm.

When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, it is recorded in Luke 2:22-35 that Joseph and Mary took Jesus to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, "Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord"). Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Christ. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God.

The child's father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too."

Jesus' parents are law-abiding Jews. They show up at the temple to perform sacrifices associated with the wife's purification after birth. Such a ceremony occurs forty days after the child's arrival. The Spirit of God directs this scene, because he had revealed to Simeon that death would not come until he had seen the Lord's Christ. Promise, fulfillment and God's direction stand behind the prophecy of this old saint.

In this rendition, Simeon is sincerely happy that he, as an old man who is about to die, may hold the future Messiah in his arms. The Holy Spirit had led Simeon to the temple. The subject must have fascinated Rembrandt, because he made at least two paintings and several drawings about it. This painting focuses entirely on Simeon's emotion and leaves out almost all other figures. There also is no reference to the place of action. The contrast with his great 1631 painting could hardly be stronger. This may very well have been Rembrandt's last painting. It was found unfinished in his workshop the day after he died. The woman in the background was probably added afterwards by someone else. Some think she is Mary, others say she must be the prophetess Anna.

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (July 15, 1606 – October 4, 1669) was a Dutch painter and etcher. He is generally considered one of the greatest painters European art history. He exhibited a complete knowledge of classical iconography, which he molded to fit the requirements of his own experience; thus, the depiction of a biblical scene was informed by Rembrandt's knowledge of the specific text, his assimilation of classical composition, and his observations of Amsterdam's Jewish population.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Return of the Magi

Title: Return of the Magi

Artist: Dionisy

Medium: Fresco

Size: tbd

Date: c. 1502

Location: Nativity Cathedral of the St. Ferapont Belozero Monastery, Russia.

Matthew 2:12 records that the wise men, having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, returned to their country by another route.

That the Magi needed a supernatural revelation to warn them not to return by way of Jerusalem suggests their innocent naiveté. Even without Herod's unadmirable character, few kings would be ready to surrender their own rule to a nonrelative some foreigners hailed as king! (For that matter, not only powerful people in society but many others today seem reluctant to acknowledge Jesus' right to direct their lives.) The Magi's innocence compared to Herod's murderous shrewdness again reminds Matthew's readers not to prejudge the appropriate recipients of the gospel. Jesus is for all who will receive him, and God may provide Jesus' servants with allies in unexpected places if we have the wisdom to recognize them.

Dionisy (c.1450 – c.1520) was an outstanding icon painter and the most venerated artist at the turn of the 15th and 16th centuries in Russia, was a contemporary of Raphael, Leonardo, Botticelli and Durer. Dionisy created works that reflected a revival of Russian culture during an era when the Russian state was being unified. He painted in an atmosphere of spiritual rebirth, massive construction in Moscow and an intense apocalyptical mood connected with waiting for Doomsday at the end of the seven thousand years (according to the Old Russian chronology). Experts know of around ten cathedrals whose walls were painted by Dionisy. Some of the painter’s works are lost for good; some have been preserved by restorers. Only the wall painting of the Virgin Nativity Cathedral of the St. Ferapont Belozero Monastery has survived in full and intact.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Adoration of the Magi

Title: The Adoration of the Magi

Artist: Quentin Massys

Medium: Oil on wood

Size: 103 x 80 cm

Date: 1526

Location: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Matthew 2:11 chronicles how the wise men, on coming to the house, saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.

That the Magi offer Jesus both homage and standard gifts from the East fits Eastern practices; for instance, royal courts there used frankincense and myrrh (though these spices also had many other uses). The Magi's homage to Jesus may reflect biblical language alluding to the pilgrimage and homage of nations in Psalm 72:10 or Isaiah 60:6. Regardless, this homage reinforces the point of the narrative: if God's people will not honor Jesus, former pagans will.

This intentionally claustrophobic composition is characteristic of works produced by the first generation of Renaissance painters in Antwerp. The scene is viewed up close, with half-length, gesticulating figures separated from the viewer by a fictive ledge. Finely wrought goldsmith work—such as was actually produced in Antwerp—abounds. The caricature-like features of the Magi and their retinue reveal Massys's interest in the extreme physiognomic types popularized by Leonardo da Vinci and made available to Northern artists through prints. It was this interest in the psychology of physiognomy that made Massys such a gifted portraitist.

Quentin Massys, also spelled Matsys, Metsys, or Messys (b. 1465, Leuven, d. 1530, Antwerpen), was a Flemish artist considered the first important painter of the Antwerp school. We are not told expressly by whom Massys was taught, but his style seems to have derived from the lessons of Dirk Bouts, who brought to Leuven the influence of Memling and van der Weyden. When Massys settled at Antwerp at the age of twenty-five, his own style contributed importantly to reviving Flemish art along the lines of van Eyck and van der Weyden.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Guiding Star

Title: Guiding Star

Artist: Ralph Hulett

Medium: Watercolor on paper

Size: tbd

Date: 1955

Location: The Animation Guild Loc. 839, Burbank.

Matthew 2:9-10 records that after the interview with Herod the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were filled with joy!

After the Magi have left Jerusalem, they would likely have followed a road that led south to Bethlehem, which was about six miles from Jerusalem, so the rest of the Magi's journey probably did not take very long. As such, it would have been difficult to determine the exact position of the star in relation to Jerusalem and Bethlehem, unless the object were only a mile high. However, the Magi being led by a supernatural sign does recall how God was able to lead his own people by fire and cloud in the wilderness as recorded in Exodus.

Ralph Hulett (1915-1974) was an American painter, illustrator, and animator. Ralph Hulett came to California as a teenager and attended high school in Glendale. From a young age, his artistic talents were obvious and upon graduation, he was awarded a four year scholarship to study at the Chouinard Art Institute. His instructors were Millard Sheets, Phil Dike, Phil Paradise and Herb Jepson. While still at college, he was hired by the Walt Disney Studios to work on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. By the 1940s, he had earned enough seniority to receive screen credits for his work on such historic films as Cinderella, Peter Pan, Lady and the Tramp, Sleeping Beauty, 101 Dalmatians and The Jungle Book.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Circumcision of Christ

Title: Circumcision of Christ

Artist: Andrea Mantegna

Medium: Tempera on panel

Size: 82 x 42 cm

Date: c. 1460

Location: Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence.

Luke 2:21 records that eight days after his birth, when the baby was circumcised, he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel even before he was conceived.

Reflecting the piety of obedient Jewish parents, Joseph and Mary undertake to circumcise the child on the eighth day and give him the name the angel said he should possess, Jesus. In every action this couple is showing faithfulness. They are examples of faith. As devout Jewish parents, they follow the Mosaic law.

It is because Christ was circumcised that the Christian no longer needs circumcision. In the words of St. Ambrose: "Since the price has been paid for all after Christ suffered, there is no longer need for the blood of each individual to be shed by circumcision." In Mantegna's great picture of the Circumcision, the earliest monumental treatment of the subject and the most profound in conception, the solicitous gesture of the mother at right, averting her little boy's face to spare him a painful sight, may also have this theological import -- as if to say, "Not for you."

Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506), one of the foremost north Italian painters of the 15th century. A master of perspective and foreshortening, he made important contributions to the compositional techniques of Renaissance painting. Born (probably at Isola di Carturo, between Vicenza and Padua) in 1431, Mantegna became the apprentice and adopted son of the painter Francesco Squarcione of Padua. He developed a passionate interest in classical antiquity. The influence of both ancient Roman sculpture and the contemporary sculptor Donatello are clearly evident in Mantegna's rendering of the human figure. His human forms were distinguished for their solidity, expressiveness, and anatomical correctness.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Three Kings before Herod

Title: The Three Kings before Herod

Artist: Unknown

Medium: Watercolor on paper

Size: tbd

Date: c.1120 - 1145.

Location: From the St Albans Psalter, St Godehard Dombibliothek, Hildesheim.

Matthew 2:1-8 reiterates that Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, and places the event during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”

King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”

“In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote: ‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah, are not least among the ruling cities of Judah, for a ruler will come from you who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’”

Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!”

This illustration depicts Herod seated in his distinct space, holding an open book which he discussed with the kings, while a sword bearer stands behind him. Herod consults the prophecy of Micah to locate Bethlehem as the birthplace of the Messiah. Facing him, and gesticulating in animated fashion, the three kings stand in order of seniority, led by the oldest with a white beard. The star shines beyond the margin.

The St Albans Psalter, also known as the Albani Psalter or the Psalter of Christina of Markyate, is an English illuminated manuscript, one of several Psalters known to have been created at or for St Albans Abbey in the 12th century. It is widely considered to be one of the most important examples of English Romanesque book production: it is of almost unprecedented lavishness of decoration and contains a number of iconographic innovations that would endure throughout the Middle Ages. Scholarly opinion differs on many of the details, but there is general agreement that the Psalter was created at St Albans Abbey during the abbacy of Geoffrey de Gorham or Gorron (1119-1146), and that it was probably owned by Christina of Markyate (born circa 1098, died perhaps between 1155 and 1166), anchoress and later prioress of Markyate.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Nativity

Title: The Nativity

Artist: John Singleton Copley

Medium: Oil on canvas

Size: 62 x 76 cm

Date: c. 1776

Location: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

In Luke 2:16-19 it is written that after the appearance of the heavenly host, the shepherds hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.

This birth is no mere arrival of a new life, as poignant as each such event is. The story is not told so that hearers can identify with the new mother and father or enjoy a story of hope, of a touching birth in humble surroundings. This birth has value because of whose birth it is. The shepherds have found that the angel's words were true, that events have transpired just as they had been told. God's word is coming to pass; his plan is again strategically at work. They break out in praise to God because he has sent Jesus, the Savior, Lord and Christ.

"The Nativity" demonstrates Copley's quick assimilation of the rhythmic gestures and flowing style popular in contemporary British painting. The Virgin's white dress is an ancient symbol of purity, but it is also a modern touch, resembling the kind of neoclassical dress that was just becoming fashionable. Copley's wife, Susanna, and their newborn daughter are said to have posed for the composition; perhaps they were also its inspiration. The painting was displayed in 1777 at London's Royal Academy.

John Singleton Copley (b. 1738 – d. 1815) was an American painter, born presumably in Boston, Massachusetts. According to art historian Paul Staiti, Copley was the greatest and most influential painter in colonial America, producing about 350 works of art. With his startling likenesses of persons and things, he came to define a realist art tradition in America.