Saturday, December 25, 2021

On the Iconography of Christmas

 

Luisa Roldan (called La Roldana), Rest on the Flight into Egypt
Spanish, c. 1690
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art






Instead of writing a new essay on some aspect of the Christmas story in art I thought that I might just list some useful links for connecting to what I have already written on the subject (much as I do for Holy Week and the Easter season).  Although the specific readings these images reflect do not form part of the liturgy in every year, each year does touch on most of them.  




So, here goes...

Last Week of Advent/Preparation for Christmas

The O Antiphons.  These are a series of antiphons (short verses that precede and follow the prayer of the Magnificat at Evening Prayer (Vespers) during the last week of Advent.

The O Antiphons (introduction)  click here

  • O Wisdom, O Holy Word of God!  click here
  • O Flower of Jesse's Stem!  click here 
  • O Key of David! Come, break down the walls of death!  click here   
  • O Radiant Dawn! O Sun of Justice!  click here  
  • O King of All the Nations!  click here  
  • O Emmanuel! Savior of all people, come and set us free! click here

Nativity (central group of figures) from the Metropolitan Museum Christmas Tree
Italian (Naples), Late 18th Century
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Consolation of Saint Joseph 

An angel reveals to Joseph that Mary's pregnancy comes from God, not from a man.  Joseph acts on his dream and marries Mary, becoming the guardian of the Son of God.

Circle of Antoine Le Moiturier, Nativity
French, c. 1450
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Birth of Jesus


The Nativity

Mary and Joseph are unable to find lodging in a crowded Bethlehem and find shelter in a stable (or cave) where Mary gives birth and places her child in the manger where the animals usually feed.  Angels announce the good news of his birth to the shepherds in the fields, who come and adore him.  And wise men come from the east with rich gifts.

The Holy Family

Images of the three members of the Holy Family. 

  • Jesus, Mary and Joseph! – The Holy Family  click here  

Altarpiece with Scenes of the Infancy of Christ
Northern French, Late 15th Century
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Aftermath


The Visit of the Wise Men

  • How the Image of the Wise Men Was Formed  click here

The Holy Innocents

King Herod the Great knows about the prophecy of a new king in Israel.  After hearing the story of the wise men he decides to ensure his throne by eliminating this new born king.  So, he orders the massacre of all infant boys under 2 years old.  

  • The Holy Innocents – Nearly Forgotten Baby Martyrs  click here

The Flight into Egypt  

An angel warns Joseph about Herod's plans and orders him to take the child and his mother to Egypt to wait for Herod's death.  The Holy Family flees.

  • The Flight into Egypt -- The Holy Refugees, The "Simple" Images (Part I of a Series)  click here
  • The Flight Into Egypt -- The Variations (Part 2 of a Series)  click here
  • The Rest on the Flight into Egypt, Part I of 3  click here  
  • The Rest on the Flight into Egypt, Part II of 3  click here  
  • The Rest on the Flight into Egypt, Part III of 3  click here


Related Feasts  

The beginning of the new year brings with it two feasts that are reflections on the Christmas story rather than narrative depictions of the Gospels.  These are the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, on January 1 and the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus on January 3.


In spite of the recent COVID virus mutation, which has wrecked so many plans for the Christmas season, I wish you all a Blessed Christmas and a Healthy New Year!


Christmas Tree with 18th Century Presepio
Italian, 18th Century (tree modern)
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

This year the tree is on view until January 9, 2022.  Not only is it worth a visit in itself, but this year it is surrounded by a particularly fine display of figures of the Madonna and Child from Europe toward the end of the middle ages, say 14th-15th century dates.  They are well worth viewing and I hope to be able to write a review of them before they and the tree depart.  Of course, the new COVID strain, omicron, has put something of a dent into everyone's plans.


© M. Duffy, 2021


Friday, December 17, 2021

The O Antiphons



Follower of the Coetivy Master, Initial O
From a Book of Hours
French (Loire Region), c. 1470-1480
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS G1.II, fol. 232v


For the convenience of readers I am reposting this listing of the O Antiphons. 

In the week before Christmas, the Liturgy of the Hours (the official daily prayer of the Church) includes a series of special antiphons preceding the recitation of the Magnificat (Luke 1: 46-55) during Evening Prayer that are collectively called the O Antiphons.  In the English-speaking world most Christians are familiar with them as they are paraphrased in the complete verses of the well-known Advent hymn "O Come, O Come Emmanuel", which is a free translation of the medieval Latin text.













The O Antiphons refer to Christ under eight different titles.  These titles connect the events of the Old Testament that forecast different aspects of Jesus and the salvation He came to give.

To see the images these titles reflect, click on the title of the antiphon below:

December 19 -- O Flower of Jesse's Stem!

In recent years a revival of lay interest in the Liturgy of the Hours has brought more awareness of these special texts.

Here is a video of Ely Cathedral Women's Choir singing the traditional English version of "Veni, Veni, Emmanuel".


© M. Duffy, 2017

Thursday, December 9, 2021

An Advent of Promise

Claes Brouwer, Jesus Heals the Woman Bent Over and the Parable of the Fig Tree
From a History Bible
Dutch (Utrecht), c. 1420
The Hague, Koniklijk Bibliotheek
MS KB 78 D 38 II, fol. 170r

I have frequently used this image of Jesus healing the woman bent over to represent my own situation.  A few months ago I wrote about my summer of discontent.  I'm finally happy to say that things are better now.

My broken leg healed quite fast, probably because I hated the boot cast so much that I would use it to walk only if absolutely necessary.  My spine doctor advised me to adopt this policy because he said that many of his patients only began to have trouble with their spines when they had to wear one of those boots.  Consequently, I stayed off my feet for about six weeks.  That was truly a late summer of discontent!  Then, happily, the very well known orthopedist who was dealing with my leg told me that I could stop wearing it.  Indeed, he told me that my leg had healed remarkably well.  

Since then I have gradually increased my activities.  It was a bit frightening at first, especially to go out of doors alone, and for several weeks I confined my walks to just the few blocks around my apartment building.  I don't think I was ever more than two blocks away at any time.  But, little by little, I began to go farther and now it's pretty much normal activity again.  

I was able to return to join the rehearsals of my choral group and to participate in the concert we did on November 21.  In spite of my leg and back I managed to mount the podium to my place with the other sopranos (and the timpani and English horn players) and to stand for almost the entire concert, taking breaks only during solo portions.  I astonished myself quite a bit by this much standing.  And I was thrilled to find that I could stand up from a sitting position once again. My right thigh muscles are weak but definitely back on the job.  It made my back hurt, but not unbearably, and not enough to distract me from the music of Mozart and Bach.

I was even able to host a somewhat disastrous Thanksgiving dinner to which I invited two friends.  It was tremendous fun, mostly because it was such a disaster.  It began with the discovery s that the store handling my Thanksgiving order lost most of my items.  All I got was the turkey (thanks be to God), the prepared mashed potatoes (ordered to save my back) and two pears.  They were able to replace a few other items overnight, but the dessert was unobtainable till Saturday, which didn't help at all.  That was disaster number 1.

Disaster number 2 was that the turkey kept rolling over in the pan, just as I was trying to put it in the oven.  Consequently, the butter pats that were on its skin kept falling onto the well heated oven floor, which I could do nothing about at the time.  It took four tries to get the turkey to go in.  And the butter from the previous three tries just stayed on the oven floor, melting away and smoking dreadfully.  My first guest and I were forced to open the door and the windows to clear the smoke.  

Disaster number 3 occurred when my first guest and I started to set the table.  As we began to expand the table it fell apart!  The table is one I inherited from my parents.  It is certainly older than I am as I have very clear memories of it as a child, especially memories of how much my mother cared for it.  She would polish it frequently and sing while she did it.  It was a joy to see her so happily engaged in caring for her lovely table.  I'm afraid that since her death I have not cared for it so well.  I have had few opportunities to use it opened and consequently have skipped on its maintenance.  Indeed the last time I did use it was in 2018.  In the intervening three years I guess the dryness of the wood has increased to the point that the pieces won't hold together.  It came apart in three pieces, possibly more as I haven't moved it or examined it too closely since Thanksgiving.  

The day was saved by the second guest, one of my neighbors.  She arrived right after the table failed, then went back to her own apartment and brought me her folding card table.  We were able to put that in place, set it for dinner and have a lovely time.  Which just goes to show that disasters aren't always as disastrous as we initially think. 

So, at the moment, I am feeling better, even if the underlying issue is not actually getting better.  An MRI taken just before Thanksgiving shows that the situation is even worse than originally thought because the enormous quantity of fluid released by the collapsing disks has been absorbed by my body and is no longer confusing the images.  There are two disks involved this time, so almost my entire lumbar spine area has collapsed.  I will need surgery, but I have told the surgeon that I want to wait awhile.  I will have one or maybe two epidural shots in the near future, but surgery will possibly not happen until late February or early March. 

In the meantime I am trying to maintain an Advent spirit in my daily activities and prayers.  Advent is a season I love.  I love the quality of yearning that one finds in the prayers and hymns associated with the season.  It's the attitude we should maintain in our lives as we await the coming of the Lord in our own hearts and souls.  







I wish you all a blessed Advent and a joyous Christmas season.