December Painting of the Month (1)

December 2020. I think we are all getting pandemic weary but while we want to spread some Christmas cheer it is still a time for care and vigilance. So I thought I might post a few paintings this month looking at earlier and modern ideas of the Christmas story.

Giotto is an ideal place to start and one of his frescoes at the Lower Church at Assisi. Giotto di Bondone painted this fresco for the Assisi church in around 1304. He, more than anyone, probably set the scene for the early Italian Renaissance with these paintings where realism started to be prevalent and he employed emotional expressions rather than simple representations. Just look at the motherly love and concentration in Mary and the response from the Christ Child, and the expectation of the angels.

Giotto do Bondone, The Nativity, c1304, the Lower Church, Assisi, Italy, Fresco, nativity
Giotto do Bondone, The Nativity, c1304, fresco, The Lower Church, Assisi, Italy

… and the angels. Probably more than anyone in history Giotto could paint angels!

The Nativity of Jesus is a theme we become aware of very early in our lives. As our thoughts of school nativity plays jumble our ideas, we think it is a modern idea to introduce all sorts of new animals and characters into  St Luke’s original story. Woody meets Buzz Lightyear meets the velociraptors. But no – it has always been so. Look at the Ox and Ass lowing over the manger. Well you won’t find them in the Bible. They first appeared carved into Roman sarcophagi around the fourth century. And look at all the nativity paintings of the old masters with chickens, rabbits, elephants, leopards. When your teacher tried to write Bagpuss into the nativity he (she) was following a long line of Old Masters stretching back through history reinventing the story.

Nativity Scene from sarcophagus, Italy (4th century), Rome, Giotto,
Nativity scene carved on sarcophagus, 4th century, Rome, Italy

Anyway back to Giotto. It was fairly normal to have multiple scenes in the same piainting so note the two Mary’s and babes. As well as the frescoes at Assisi, his other great work was the Arena chapel at Padua which I was lucky enough to see last year – quite awesome. He did have a special way of depicting Joseph in his frescoes

Giotto di Bondone, The Birth of Jesus
Giotto di Bondone, The Birth of Jesus, fresco, c1305, Arena Chapel, Padua, Italy.

“A very merry Christmas…” (Who wrote this in 1971?)

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Steve Oberg says:

    Thanks so much. Hope to see those in person some day!


    1. Thanks, you will be well rewarded when you do. Happy Christmas, Steve.


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