Monthly Archives: December 2020

15 Famous Paintings Show the Wonder of the Christmas Story

Artists through the years have been filled with wonder and joy at the events of the first Christmas and I pray their efforts here to illustrate their wonder will bring joy to your Christmas this year!

Here are 15 famous paintings of the Christmas Story and the Bible verses they illustrate.

 The Annunciation to Mary  

. . . the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with chlld and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” Luke,1:30-33 NIV

Fra Angelico was a monk who painted frescoes of Jesus’ life throughout his monastery in Florence. This annunciation greets you as you climb the stairs to the monks’ chambers. I wrote a Christmas post about this painting in December of 2015.

The Annunciation, by Fra Angelico, 1395-1455, Italian, Convent of San Marco, Florence, author photo

This triptych or 3-panel altarpiece is one of the first Annunciations to show Mary in a regular home, in this case,  a typical home in the Netherlands in the 1300 and 1400s. Almost everything in this painting symbolizes something about Jesus and His birth. For example, Mary is sitting on the floor to symbolize her humility.

The Annunciation triptych of the Merode Altarpiece by Robert Campin, 1375-1444, Netherlandish, Cloisters, NY, public domain

This Annunciation is part of a huge altarpiece painted by Matthias Grunewald. It is now a treasured part of a monastery-turned museum in Colmar, France. But it narrowly escaped destruction during the French Revolution.

The annunciation, part of the Isenheim Altarpiece by Matthias Grunewald, 1470-1528, German, Unterlinden Museum, Colmar, France, author photo

Henry Ossawa Tanner, an African-American artist of the 19th and early 20th centuries depicts the angel Gabriel as a column of radiating light.

The Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner, American, 1850-1937,Philadelphia Museum of Art, public domain

The Incarnation

The angel answered [Mary], “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” Luke 1:35 NIV

In this illuminated manuscript by the Celtic monks of Iona, an island off the west coast of Scotland, the Incarnation is depicted as the miraculous mystery it is–a mystery beyond our imagining–that God could be born of a woman to live among us as Immanuel and die for our sins! In December of 2014, I wrote a post about the Chi Rho page that most illuminated manuscripts of the early Middle Ages have.  It is the illumination of Matt. 1:18, where the gospel switches from Jesus’ ancestry to His birth with the Latin words Christi autem generatio, which means, “this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about….” For this reason it is called the Incarnation page, and on it the monks used a traditional symbol for the word Christ–the first two letters of Christ in Greek–Chi-Rho or XP.

The Incarnation or Chi Rho page of the Book of Kells, Irish, ca. A.D. 800, Trinity Library, Dublin, Ireland, public domain

The Visitation 

.  . . . [Mary] entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored; that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Luke 1:40-43 NIV

In this beautiful painting of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth, we see the emotion in each of their faces and gestures as they experience together the wonder of what God has done!

The Visitation by Jacopo Pontormo, Italian, 1494-1557, Church of San Francesco e Michele, Carmignano, Italy, public domain

The Nativity 

While they were there [Bethlehem], the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. Luke 2:6-7 NIV

In the lower, plainer church of St. Francis of Assisi is this beautiful painting of the Nativity by Giotto. St. Francis is said to be the one who began the practice of having a creche scene at Christmas.

The Nativity in the Lower Church at Assisi, Italy, by Giotto di Bondone, Italian, 1267-1337, public domain

The Annunciation to the Shepherds

   And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be assigned to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”  Luke 2:8-14 NIV

Another beautiful painting by Henry Ossawa Tanner, this time a nocturnal scene of the angel’s annunciation to the shepherds. It captures the wonder of the angel’s appearance and their amazement!

Annunciation to the Shepherds by Henry Ossawa Tanner, American. 1859-1937, public domain

The only print in this group, it’s by Rembrandt and also captures the wonder of that night.

Annunciation to the Shepherds by Rembrandt, public domain

Honthorst has captured the continuing wonder of the shepherds as they follow the angel’s instructions to find the babe wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. This year’s Christmas post was about this painting.

Adoration of the Christ Child by Gerrit van Honthorst, Dutch, 1592-1656, Uffizi,Art Gallery, Florence, Italy, author photo

Mary’s joy in her son is so evident in another panel from the Isenheim Altarpiece. The Altarpiece was painted for a monastery where the monks treated people with skin diseases, and it was believed that gazing on these paintings would help the patients be reminded of Christ and His love and salvation for even the most humble. In December of 2018, I wrote a Christmas post about this painting.

Mary and the Christ Child, a panel of The Isenheim Altarpiece by Matthias Grunewald, German, 1470-1528, Unterlinden Museum, Colmar, France, author photo

The Visit of the Magi

after Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the East came to Jerusalem and asked, “where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the East and have come to worship him.”
After they had heard the king, they [Magi] went on their way in the store they had seen in the East went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and myrrh. Matthew 2:1-2, 9-11 NIV

Durer shows the coming of the wisemen, here depicted as elegant and wealthy men, to worship the Christ Child. Medieval tradition held that one of the wisemen was an old man, another was a young man, and one was African.

Adoration of the Magi by Albrecht Durer, German, 1471-1528, Uffizi Art Gallery, Florence, Italy, public domain

The Massacre of the Innocents

when Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, 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. Matthew 2:16 NIV

This fresco is from a series Giotto painted on the life of Christ in the small but beautiful Arena Chapel in Padua, Italy. A forerunner of the Renaissance, Giotto amazed his contemporaries with his life-like people. Here he shows the intense emotions of the Massacre of the Innocents.

The Massacre of the Innocents by Giotto di Bondone, Arena Chapel, Padua, Italy, public domain

The Flight or Escape into Egypt

When they [Magi] had gone, 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.”
So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt . . . Matthew 2:13-14 NIV

After the intensity of the last painting, this one of the Fight into Egypt seems so calm and even restful.  but as Mary holding the Baby Jesus looks back at Joseph, you can sense her sense of urgency.

The flight into Egypt by Annibale Carracci, Italian, 1560-1609, Galleria Dorla Pamphilj, Rome, public domain

Another calm painting as Mary offers grapes to her son. In the background Joseph is shown beating  nuts or perhaps fruit from a tree to care for them. The donkey waits patiently beside them.

Rest on the flight into Egypt by Gerard David, Netherlandish, 1460-1523, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. public domain

I hope these paintings will bless your celebration of the wonder of the birth of our Savior–Immanuel, God with us! And that the wonder and joy will continue to fill you in the New Year!

 

Don’t Allow the Pandemic to Make You Miss Jesus this Christmas

I almost missed this painting of Jesus. Small and tucked away in an out-of-the-way gallery, it was overshadowed by the larger, more famous paintings at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy.

In this post the devotion is first, followed by an art project the whole family can enjoy together. Next is a very short bio of the artist Gerrit van Honthorst.  And last of all a couple of photos of Molly and me in the snow. I hope you’ll enjoy any or all of these.

The Uffizi, author photo

Devotion:

Like other famous museums, the Uffizi is crowded. People fill every gallery. Many are tired. Not everyone is polite. As we stood in front of one especially famous painting, someone in the crowd actually rested a camera attached to a selfie stick on my husband’s head! (selfie sticks are now banned in most museums!)

But to visit the Uffizi was a once–in-a-lifetime experience,

The Holy Family by Michelangelo, photo by author

so we persevered, even though we often had to wait and then stand our ground for space to gaze at great Renaissance art. I marveled at the rich colors of Michelangelo’s Holy Family and so many other beautiful paintings.

At the end of the day when we trudged into a small, plain gallery, my feet ached, and my head was on art overload (yes, even art teachers get there!) I collapsed on a bench, like this guy I photographed at the Louvre, and didn’t even look at the art on the walls.

So my husband saw it first—a small nativity painting by Gerrit van Honthorst that uses light and shadow to focus on Jesus. I had come to the Uffizi on a mission to see the big Renaissance artworks for real. It took a small painting by a not-very-well-known artist to show me I was missing Jesus.

Long ago people had to go to Bethlehem for a once-in-a-lifetime experience of a Roman census. Crowds of tired people were on missions to find rooms. Not everyone was polite. Tempers flared, and children cried.   And most missed Jesus. He was small, like any baby, and He was tucked away in a stable behind one of those inns. No halos, crowns, or beautiful garments made Him stand out. Instead Mary had wrapped him in cloths and laid him in a manger.

But the shepherds stopped everything and hurried to see Jesus, because they believed the angels’ announcement:  “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Luke 2:11-12 (NIV)

Adoration of the Christ Child by Honthorst, photo by author

They truly saw Jesus. They saw the One who created the stars lying humbly in a manger. They saw God’s most amazing miracle of all time–Immanuel, God come to dwell with us and in His great compassion save us from our sins. They worshiped Him with wonder and delight. Let’s make sure we don’t get so focused on our holiday missions of shopping, gift-wrapping, and baking, that we miss Jesus, God’s greatest gift to us—Himself.

If you can’t gather with friends or family this year send them a link to this blog or the one to the painting at the Uffizi and then zoom with them to talk about the painting together. Ask them to tell you what they see and share with them the wonder of Immanuel, God with us.

https://www.uffizi.it/en/artworks/adoration_of_the_child_gherrit_van_honthorst

Art Project—a pop-up card to help everyone see Jesus!

Supplies

  •      pencil, ruler, scissors
  •      1 piece of medium blue cardstock, cut a little smaller than the white card
  •      1 piece of white or other light-colored cardstock
  •      small pieces or scraps of yellow and/or brown construction paper
  •      old Christmas cards with nativity scenes or scraps of white cardstock to draw on
  •      markers
  •      white glue and glitter or glitter glue

Directions (This is a fun project to do as a family—adults or older children helping younger children)

1. Score and Fold both blue and white cards in half

2. The blue card:

A few inches from the top on the inside draw a wavy line for some hills and add a few small   buildings and palm trees. Leave room for the big star!! (look at towns on old Christmas cards for examples). Use blue marker to color the buildings and trees.  Leave some windows and doors to fill in with yellow marker after blue marker is dry.

3. To make the pop-up section on the blue card

Refold the card and on the outside at the fold, place a dot at the middle. About an inch on each side of the dot draw one line that extends 1 ½” up from the fold and with the card still folded, cut along the 2 lines. Do not cut across the top.

Open the card and poke the cut section through to the front. Scoring for the folds helps.

Crease along the two scored lines so the cut portion stands up like a bench.

4. The Star

In the sky above the little houses on the blue card, draw a large star and outline in glue. Make dots for small scattered stars. Sprinkle glitter over the stars and allow to dry.

5. Attaching the blue card to the white card

Turn the blue card to the back and thinly spread glue over its back, being sure not to get glue on the poked-to-the-front section. Center the blue card on the white card, lining up the folds and press to stick.

6. The Manger Scene

Cut out a manger scene from a Christmas card (You don’t have to cut out every figure—maybe just a shape that includes everyone). Or you can draw and cut out your own from another piece of cardstock.

Glue the manger scene to the front of the “bench” so when the card is opened, the manger scene will stand up. Cut yellow and brown paper into small, thin pieces and glue at base of manger for straw.

Place your manger scene where everyone can see Jesus!

If you’d like to send your card to someone, turn the card over to the white front and add a Christmas message about Jesus!  Decorate around your message with markers

A very short Bio of Gerrit van Honthorst, who painted The Adoration of the Christ Child:

Gerrit van Honthorst was born in the Netherlands in 1590. He studied art in Italy, learning how Carravaggio created dramatic lights and darks. While in Italy, Honthorst painted many night scenes, mostly religious. Although not very well-known today, Honthorst helped bring the dramatic Baroque art style to northern Europe, and influenced Rembrandt in the Netherlands and Georges de la Tour in France.      

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 Molly and I wish you all a blessed Christmas celebrating the birth of Jesus.

!

Three Little Trees Discover How God’s Love Helps Each One Serve the King of Kings in Their Own Special Way

“Once upon a mountaintop, three little trees stood and dreamed of what they wanted to become when they grew up…”  This is how A Tale of Three Trees, a picture book retelling of an American folktale by Angela Elwell Hunt, begins.

You may not be familiar with the book, as it was published back in 1989, but I recommend you and your family read it as part of Advent. As a classic, it will be available through most libraries, Amazon, and many bookstores this time of year.

The story and its illustrations will capture your family’s heart as it tells the story of Christ’s miraculous birth, His earthly ministry and miracles, and His death on a cross for our sins. It’s told from the viewpoint of three trees, whose original dreams come true in ways they never could have imagined.

Following is an easy Christmas art project to go along with this delightful story for all ages. If I were doing this project at school this year, as we made each tree, we’d stop and read about their dream. Then we’d finish the trees and read the rest of the story to see how God made their dreams come true in a way that amazed them and pointed others to who Jesus really is!

Not only does this folktale beautifully capture the message of the gospel, it can also remind each of us that when we humbly put our dreams in God’s hands, His love will transform those dreams into amazing adventures that serve others and glorify Him.

Supplies:

  • Sturdy background paper in whichever color you choose
  • Pencils and erasers
  • Green, yellow, blue, and white tempera paint
  • An old fork with smooth-backed tines and a few paintbrushes to mix paints and apply paint to the fork tines
  • An old toothbrush to spatter white paint for snow (you could also use a Q-tip to paint snowflakes or punch out little circles of white paper to glue here and there)
  • Plastic or paper plate on which to mix colors
  • Crayons, colored pencils, or markers to color the tree trunks

Directions:

  1. On the back ground paper, have children draw, or if they’re too young, you lightly draw triangles for the 3 trees. The triangle is a guide for painting (see the photo)
  2. Draw a stump for each tree, but not too tall as the trees start out small.
  3. Color the stump, coloring up a little into the lower section of each tree, so it looks attached. In the photo you can see that I’ve lightened my pencil lines so they won’t show through the paint.
  4. Mix a little blue paint into some green to create a dark green, and a little green into the yellow to make a yellowish green.
  5. Apply the dark green paint to the back of the fork, and use downward strokes to “paint” the boughs of each tree. Let dry. You will need to keep applying the paint to the fork either with a brush or by running it through the paint you’ve mixed up
  6. Using the same technique, “paint” strokes of yellowish green down over the dark green to create highlights. Be sure to allow the dark green to still show some.
  7. Let your trees dry, and then, if you wish. Spatter white paint to create falling snow. The spatters don’t show much in the photo.

Helpful Hints:

  • In this project, you don’t want the 2 shades of green to mix much, and you want to see the strokes, which help make the tree look like an evergreen, which is why you let each layer dry.
  • This necessary drying period is also why I think it would be fun to read about each tree and its dreams as your children work.
  • If you decide to spatter paint with a toothbrush, dip the brush in a little white paint ( it may help to mix in a very little bit of water to the white paint). Then while moving the brush over your painting, run your finger across the bristles back toward you. This seems opposite of what would work, but the other way just spatters you!  Also keep the brush moving as you spatter or you’ll get clumps instead of little snow-flakey spatters.
  • If using Q-tips, dip in white paint and encourage children to just go up and down against the paper to print little dots.

Variation:

  • Do 3 large trees and display on the fridge or a wall.
  • Do 3 small trees on cards to send to loved ones. Inside tell the story of the 3 trees.
  •    You could include verses, such as the following ones about Jesus’ birth (Matthew 1:22-23); His earthly ministry (Matthew 4:23);  and His death and resurrection (Matthew 28:5-7)

Molly and I hope you enjoy your 3 beautiful little trees while you finish A Tale of Tree Trees together.

Molly and I plan to be back next week with some of our favorite Christmas paintings! You may not be able to see it, but Molly has little antlers in the above photo.