Tag Archives: Albrecht Durer

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!

 

Rock Gardens and Deep Roots for Spiritual Growth

This summer we actually went shopping for rocks! As you might expect, it’s not hard to find rocks here along the Front Range of the Rockies. In fact a lot of landscaping is done with small rock to conserve water and with larger rock, known here as river rock, for those areas prone to run off in sudden mountain thunderstorms.

But I wanted rocks with character for a small garden area with perennial flowers, a birdbath, and bird houses. Hence the actual shopping and payment of $. We found some medium-sized rocks with lichen, brought them home and placed them in pleasing arrangements, then planted day lilies, daisies, cone flowers, and a butterfly bush.

 

 

 

 

 

Not long afterwards, Molly and I walked along a path where rocks had spilled over from some construction work. It was a dry area with no irrigation or sprinklers like parks or our back yard.

Here I discovered God had thought of rock gardens way before us and created some wildflowers that could survive in the dry, rocky soil. Even with their shallow root system, this year’s abundant rain has made these yellow and pink flowers a refreshing sight and reminded me of the diversity of God’s creation. (The colors are pretty hard to see in the photo, but they were there!)

But soon the rains will mostly end, and at this altitude of about 5, 000 feet, the sun will sear these plants as if they were on a grill at a summer cook out.

A rainfall will revive them, but they will never grow tall.

Not so in our garden. We dug deep holes so our plants would have room for their roots to grow deep to provide support and sustenance when rains are sparse and hard winds blow (which is most of the time around here). The plants are already tall and bright.

Here again is Durer’s painting the Great Piece of Turf, and if you look closely, you’ll see he has allowed some roots to show at the base of the plants. Perhaps he was thinking of the Parable of the Sower when he did that.

A Large Piece of Turf by Albrecht Durer, public domain

In that parable (Matt. 13:1-23) Jesus compares different kinds of soil to the hearts of different people and how they receive God’s Word.

He said that like plants in rocky soil that don’t have deep roots, people without deep roots in God’s Word will fall away when trouble comes.

And trouble will come in this broken world—the strong winds of personal loss, the drought of being without a job, the searing heat of a difficult relationship—and at those times our hearts need God’s healing words and promises deeply rooted to sustain us.

Just as in our garden we dug deep so our plants could develop deep roots, that’s the best way to begin to develop deep scriptural rootsdig deep into God’s word on a regular basis. When we study God’s Word regularly we see how He cares for His people in tough times.

Most of all, we see Jesus, who came and lived among us, experiencing all this world’s troubles, but without sin. We see God’s love for us when Jesus died on the cross so we can be forgiven and become part of God’s family. We learn that Jesus, who understands our weaknesses, intercedes for us before the Father, and the Holy Spirit helps and comforts us.

What are some ways you can help your heart become good soil for God’s Word to take deep root?

What are some rocks you may need to roll out of the way just as the angel rolled away the rock from Jesus’ tomb so His disciples could see and believe in His resurrection?

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Here’s Molly in our garden and Molly sitting among the rocks and plants beside the path. What a difference deep roots make!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next post: a painting and printing project for children relating to wildflowers and gardens. Don’t miss it! Sign up to receive my posts by email.

Wildflowers Seen on Summer Walks

This summer on our walks Molly and I are seeing lots of wildflowers. Clumps of blue flowers stand tall amid the grasses at the edge of paths. White daisy fleabane peeks out from under a bush and wild pink roses grow along a wooded stream.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the fields orange paint brushes poke up their spikey heads, and yellow flowers like buttercups and dandelions shine like little pieces of the sun in many areas.

 

Albrecht Durer, a German artist who lived from 1471 to 1528, created beautiful oil paintings and was also one of the first to earn much of his living from printmaking. Take a look back at my post of November, 25, 2015, about his famous Praying Hands and his great interest in Martin Luther’s teachings.

A Large Piece of Turf by Albrecht Durer, public domain

But not everyone knows of his delight in studying and painting the small everyday creatures and plants where he lived, as well as on his many trips around Europe.

He had a great curiosity and appreciation for even the smallest parts of God’s creation! Here is one of those paintings, called the Large Piece of Turf. You’ll recognize the lowly dandelion!

Take time, as Durer did, to appreciate the beauty and intricacy of grasses, weeds and wildflowers that grow everywhere.

Get out and enjoy a walk in your neighborhood, a park, in the woods, or by the shore.

Even in your own yard, before you dig up that dandelion, notice that its buttery yellow mane shades to gold in the center. And marvel at God’s care in giving this lowly weed intricate little parachute seeds to ride away on the wind (probably to your neighbor’s lawn!)

 

Studies have shown that people are more creative after a walk AND come back refreshed and more aware of God’s creativity!

 

So take along a sketchbook or take photos of the flowers so you can continue to enjoy your own Piece of God’s Turf! Use it as wallpaper on your computer or phone for a time when you need refreshing. That picture will bring back the sights, the sounds, the scents, and maybe even the feel of a soft breeze of a relaxing time!

And as you walk and look, remember Matthew 6:28-34 where Jesus reminds us that if God has bestowed such care and beauty on the flowers of the field that are here today and gone tomorrow, how much more can we depend on Him to clothe and care for us.

What Piece of God’s Turf reminds you of His love and care? Is it a wooded area with dappled shade and the scent of pines? Is it at the sea shore where you can see sandpipers skittering away from incoming waves? Maybe you love meadows filled with yellow buttercups and Queen Anne’s lace.

One of my favorite Pieces of God’s Turf are the roadsides in upstate New York where orange day lilies and blue chicory mingle to provide a complementary-colored border all summer long. Join the conversation and share your favorite piece of turf.

Here’s Molly’s latest favorite piece of God’s Turf!!