Rest on the Flight into Egypt | Art for A Christmas 2

Matthew 2:13 An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt…

Rest on the Flight into Egypt
(b. ca. 1430, Colmar, d. 1491, Breisach)
Rest on the Flight into Egypt
c. 1745
Engraving, 254 x 194 mm
Museum of Art, Cleveland
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This scene and folk story from The Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew (scroll down to chap 20)
travelled to Europe becoming, with many changes, The Cherry Tree Carol.
Known in several variations here is a performance by Joan Baez.

Commentary by Hovak Najarian

Rest on the Flight into Egypt, engraving, c. 1470-75, Martin Schongauer, 1430 -1491

Johannes Guttenberg invented moveable type and printed the Bible not long before Martin Schongauer engraved, “Rest on the Flight into Egypt,” but since most people could not read, art remained an essential means of learning stories of the Bible. During the fifteenth century the range of subjects expanded widely and stories about Mary were enhanced with lore. In addition to events such as the Annunciation and the Nativity, stories based on tradition often were included in illustrations of her life.

When Herod learned the “King of the Jews” had been born he was troubled and ordered all males who were two years old and under in Bethlehem and its region to be killed. When an angel warned Joseph of Herod’s plan, “…he rose and took the child and his mother by night, and departed to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod” (Mat. 2:14). Schongauer’s engraving is based on an account from the non-canonical book, The Gospel of Pseudo Matthew, which tells of a rest stop taken while the family was on their journey. After three days, Mary was tired, hungry, and thirsty so they stopped under a date tree; Mary looked up at the fruit but could see that it was too high to reach. The baby Jesus said, “O tree, bend thy branches and refresh my mother with thy fruit.” Schongauer depicts five angels bending the tree thus allowing Joseph to reach the dates. Jesus then caused water to flow from the roots of the palm tree and the family was refreshed.

It was a common practice for artists of this time to include symbolic content in their work. Some of the flora and fauna in this print may seem gratuitous to us now but in its day the meaning would have been understood. The stag, a symbol for Christ and a destroyer of serpents, is standing watch through the trees in the background. It was believed a stag sheds its horns and then renews them after drinking from a spring – likewise people who drink from the spring of the spirit shed their sins and are renewed. In the right foreground, the dandelion, a symbol of Christ’s passion, is a reminder of the future that awaits the child. The lily at the left foreground is a symbol of Mary’s purity, and to the far left is a dragon tree. Two lizards are on its trunk and one is approaching it. The presence of lizards, serpents, and dragons represents the devil and lurking danger. At the very top of the tree is yet another symbol; a parrot. Because a parrot has the ability to fly and talk it symbolizes a messenger and is associated with the angel that brought word of the Immaculate Conception to Mary. In paintings of Mary, a parrot is sometimes placed by her ear as though it has just said, “Ave Maria.” When not with Mary, a parrot may be placed high in a tree (as here in the dragon tree) where it can not be reached by serpents.

Hovak Najarian © 2013

SAINT MARGARET OF SCOTLAND OVAL PATRON SAINT MEDAL / The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins| Art for St Margarets. Day and A Proper 27

14KT Yellow Gold
Medal Dimensions: 1″ H x 3/4″ W (Large – Appropriate for men; older boys or anybody that prefers to wear a larger medal.)

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Matthew 25:1-2 Jesus said, “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise.”

The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins
The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins,
ca. 1803–5
William Blake
(British, 1757–1827)
Watercolor, brush and gray wash, pen and black ink over graphite
14 1/8 x 13 1/16 in. (36 x 33.2 cm)

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The Six Excellent Spiritual Gifts | Art for A Lent 5

Romans 8:6 To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.

The Six Excellent Spiritual Gifts
SCHÖN, Erhard
(b. ca. 1491, Nürnberg, d. 1542, Nürnberg)
The Six Excellent Spiritual Gifts
c. 1535
Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg
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Click here for artist biography.

Calling Disciples | Art for A Epiphany 3

Matthew 4:18,21 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother… As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John…

Calling Disciples
He, Qi
Calling Disciples
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Commentary by Hovak Najarian

Calling Disciples, mixed media, 2001, He Qi (b. 20th Century)

During the latter part of the nineteenth century, the industrial revolution with its engineering and technological marvels was becoming part of life and there was a sense the world had entered a modern age. Being “modern” became a self-congratulatory state of mind that continued well beyond the first half of the twentieth century. Around 1970, it was proclaimed the term “modern” no longer applied to how we perceived ourselves. We were in the “Post Modern” age. Today, “Modernism” is a designated time period that started in the mid 1930s and continued to the mid 1960s. The architecture and furniture of the 1950s in particular are celebrated now in exhibits called, “mid-century modern.”

In the early part of the twentieth century, it was recognized that a painting in reality is simply an object. It is created from a canvas stretched over a frame and covered with pigments. Just as a composer of symphonic music may be more interested in a work’s orchestration than in its melody, some painters downplay the importance of creating illusions (painting the subject matter to look “realistic”), instead they give attention to matters of form. All painters, regardless of their style, orchestrate their work by combining and arranging shapes, lines, colors, textures and spaces. These visual elements may be arranged in any way a person pleases. With them, an artist may paint a still-life, a portrait, or a scene and make it look “real.” If they choose they may use the elements also to abstract a subject or to not refer to a subject at all.

He Qi’s “Calling Disciples” announces its modernity with its style. His figures, boats and sails remain recognizable yet they are not described literally. As in a cloisonné, shapes are defined by thin dark lines and the colors within them are mostly flat. Jesus is on shore in the center foreground and is flanked by disciples; three of them are looking skyward inexplicably. The disciple on the far right has turned and is waving to a lone fisherman on a boat (the white beard suggests it is Peter – Andrew is not shown). The exchange of greetings between the fisherman and the disciple interjects a light storybook quality and the entire subject is treated as a formal study.

At a time when illiteracy was commonplace, art was an important means of communication. Unlike the Middle Ages, today we are able to read Matthew’s account of the calling of the disciples and an illustration of it may not contribute anything more than what is learned from the written word. Instead of providing insights into the biblical story, He Qi’s gives us harmonious color patterns and the absence of objectionable content; his painting is likely to be satisfying particularly to people attracted to “modernism.” “Calling Disciples,” is a painting that would fit nicely with “mid-century modern” décor.

Hovak Najarian © 2014

John baptizes Jesus | Art for A Epiphany 1

Matthew 3:13 Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him.

John baptizes Jesus
Jesus Mafa Community
John baptizes Jesus
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Commentary by Hovak Najarian

John Baptizes Jesus, oil on canvas, 1973, Bénédicte de la Ronciére, (20th

Artists made objects that supported the physical and spiritual needs of people throughout history and their work carried an imprint of the culture from which it came. When churches were established, art became a means by which biblical stories could be taught and worship enhanced.

In the Western division of the Church during the Middle Ages, artists painted images of the world they knew and thus biblical figures tended to be depicted as Europeans; the architecture and natural world in their paintings were their local surroundings. During the Renaissance of the fifteenth century, as painters were becoming highly skilled, the Italian heritage of Greek and Roman art brought in a classical overlay to Christian subjects and “art” evolved to exist in a realm of its own; it tended to be separate from the reality of the everyday world. The Renaissance spread throughout Europe and the art, music, literature, science, and technology that grew out of it influenced cultures of non-Europeans as well.

In recent years, a perceived need to make the arts accessible to a broader range of people led to Shakespeare’s plays being offered in a form they believed to be more palatable. Today, his plays may be seen in modern day settings with its language changed to the vernacular; the same has occurred in performances of opera. Fr. Francois Vidil of France was mindful of racial and cultural differences in people and he believed native Africans could not identify easily with biblical figures that were portrayed as white Europeans. In 1973, he worked with the Mafa Christian Communities in Africa as they staged scenes such as, “John Baptizes Jesus,” (shown here) with villagers in the roles of biblical figures. These re-enactments were recorded and illustrator Bénédicte de la Ronciére was selected to make paintings from the photographs of native Africans in these scenes.

These paintings fulfilled Fr. Vidil’s vision of casting Africans in the role of the people in biblical stories. Yet, just as the portrayal of biblical figures as Europeans in local settings was not accurate, neither was it accurate to depict biblical figures as African villagers. These paintings did not develop naturally out of the Mafa culture and although the scenes are in Africa, they are painted in a style common to European and American magazine illustrations. The subject matter of these paintings will receive attention undoubtedly from non-art sources and discussions about them will deal with social and cultural issues; not about aesthetics. It is unlikely they will receive attention from art critics and historians.

Hovak Najarian © 2013

The Nativity between Prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel | Art for A Christmas 1

John 1:14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us….

The Nativity between Prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel
DUCCIO di Buoninsegna
(b. ca. 1255, Siena, d. 1319, Siena)
The Nativity between Prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel
Tempera on wood
National Gallery of Art, WashingtonClick image for more information.

Commentary by Hovak Najarian
(Previously Hovak has commented on works from the Maesta:
Christ’s Appearance to the Apostles and Solomon)

The Nativity (with the Prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel), 1308-1311, egg tempera, Duccio di Buoninsegna, c. 1255-1319

Duccio’s “Nativity” was once part of the Maesta (Majesty) which served as an altarpiece for the Cathedral of Siena, Italy. When the painting was completed in 1311, it was composed of a very large panel of the Madonna and Child surrounded by saints and angels. Its base – called a “predella” (Italian for “foot stool” which it resembled) – was below the main panel. It served physically to support the altarpiece and visually to depict seven scenes of the birth and early life of Christ. In its original form, an Old Testament prophet stood to the right of each event holding a scroll on which a passage written by him pertained to the scene.

Duccio’s “Nativity,” the second scene in the predella, takes place in a grotto with Mary reclining on a red cushion in a royal robe of blue. In keeping with the practice of increasing a person’s size in accordance with their importance, she is much larger than the other figures. In the manger, the baby Jesus is being watched over by an ox and an ass and many angels have gathered above them; some are looking heavenward in praise and others are leaning over for an adoring glance at the baby. A small star is at the peak of the cave entrance with its rays shining onto the face of Jesus. Below the figure of Mary are two related scenes. On the left, two midwives are bathing the new born Jesus and on the right, angels are announcing Jesus’ birth to the shepherds as they stand with a sheepdog and their flock. On the left side, Joseph is sitting outside of the grotto in a pink robe, To the right of this scene is a painting of Ezekiel holding a scroll with his words; “This gate shall be kept shut: it shall not be opened, and no man may pass through it.”

In the early eighteenth century, the Maesta altarpiece was taken apart in order to divide it between the two altars of the Cathedral of Siena. During this process, damage was caused and some parts of the painting became separated and lost. Other sections were purchased and placed in museums. One of the results is Isaiah now is not with the scene to which he and his words belong. The scroll he is holding states; “Behold a young woman shall conceive and bear a son and shall call his name Immanuel” and he was placed originally at the immediate right of the “Annunciation,” (the first scene of the predella). He was separated from it and is now at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC standing next to the “Nativity.” Isaiah is not looking toward the birth of Jesus because in the original he was looking toward the archangel Gabriel’s visit to Mary. The painting of the “Annunciation,” to which his words of prophecy apply is an ocean away in the National Gallery of London without its accompanying prophet, Isaiah.

Hovak Najarian © 2013

Marriage of Sts Mary and Joseph | Art for Advent 4A

Matthew 1:20…an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife”…

Marriage of Sts Mary and Joseph
TORRETTI, Giuseppe
(b. 1664, Asolo, d. 1743, Venezia)
Marriage of Sts Mary and Joseph
Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo, Venice
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Commentary by Hovak Najarian

Marriage of Sts. Mary and Joseph, marble, 18th century, Giuseppe Torretti, 1664-1743

At the beginning of the eighteenth century the Baroque period in art was ebbing as patrons favored lighter surroundings. From this a decorative trend emerged in a style that is called Rococo; a name derived from ornamental sea shells used as embellishments in architecture. Giuseppe Torretti (also spelled Torretto), from a family of artists, was active during this period but while working with other sculptors in Rome, classicism influenced his work. In the “Marriage of Sts. Mary and Joseph” shown here, Torretti presents relief figures in a Baroque-like theatrical setting yet the robes being worn are in a classical style.

The subject of the marriage of Mary and Joseph has been included regularly in scenes of the Life of the Virgin but the story is not from accounts found in the Bible. It is mentioned in apocryphal sources which were compiled and included in a fourteenth century volume called the “Golden Legend.” In this account, Mary was living in the Temple and when she turned fourteen years old the priests decided it was time for her to marry. Young unmarried male descendents of David were sought to be her husband; Joseph, though older than the others, was included. All the men who qualified were asked to bring a branch and place it on the altar. The person bringing the branch that brought forth blossoms would be Mary’s husband. After the men placed their branches on the altar, the Holy Spirit descended as a dove and the one brought by Joseph burst immediately into flowers.

Torretti places Mary and Joseph in the foreground kneeling at the altar and facing each other in front of a priest in a traditional Jewish ceremony. The bride and groom are barefooted as are the witnesses. Joseph is depicted as a bald headed man with a beard; he is holding a branch with blossoms in his left hand and Mary’s head is covered with a shawl. Because of damage from a fire several parts of the sculpture are missing; among them are the hands of the priest and those of Mary and Joseph. From a maquette (a small terra cotta preparatory sketch made by Torretti before carving this piece in marble) [click to view]  we know Mary and Joseph were reaching across to each other and holding hands. The priest’s right hand was extended in a blessing.

This relief carving of the “Marriage of Sts. Mary and Joseph” is in the dado of the Chapel of our Lady of the Rosary, in the Basilica dei Giovanni e Paolo (Basilica of John and Paul), Venice, Italy. A fire destroyed the Chapel in 1867 and the sculpture was discolored and damaged. Torretti’s maquette for this piece is in the Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, Virginia.

Hovak Najarian © 2013