Saturday, December 24, 2011

Hodie Christus Natus Est!

Giotto, Nativity
Italian, 1304-1306
Padua, Arena Chapel
"While they were there, the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to her firstborn son.
 She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn." (Luke 2:6-7) 

These are the words of St. Luke, as he describes the birth of Jesus, His Nativiity.

The subject of the Nativity of Jesus has been a popular subject for artists in the nearly two milennia of Christian life.   There are so many works of art illustrating the scene that it is difficult to make a choice of which to talk about. 

Giotto, Nativity (detail)

But here is a favorite of mine (among many) -- Giotto's Nativity from the Arena Chapel in Padua.  I love the exchange of glances between Mother and Child.  Their regard for each other is serious, grave even.  Is Mary wondering what this miraculous Child will grow up to be?  Is Jesus wondering what this human life will be like?

Meanwhile, the shepherds hear the words of the exhuberant angels and Joseph, according to legends popular in the Middle Ages, sleeps outside the stable.  In Giotto's image all is calm, quiet and bright.

A Blessed Christmas to all!  And, as my gift to you, here is a performance of Palestrina's motet, Hodie Christus natus est.   

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