The Art of the Nativity, Part One

By Kahren Jones Arbitman

To the regret of many, the tradition of sending Christmas cards has mostly faded away or been replaced with photos of uncomfortable children overdressed for the holidays. Together with their annual greeting, these cards often contained images of how artists throughout the centuries envisioned the events surrounding Christ’s birth. In fact, many people were introduced to the visual image of the nativity this way. To be sure, scenes of the nativity could also be found in churches, but viewing art in dim church light is hardly conducive to appreciating its artistic beauty and narrative content. Today, because of modern exhibition standards, the best place to appreciate original art of the nativity is often in art museums. Anyone who has ever walked through the Uffizi in Florence or the National Gallery in London has had the opportunity to see some of the world’s most renowned paintings of the subject. No particular religious affiliation is necessary; the artistry of these works is for all to enjoy.

The Art of the Nativity, Part One
“From Ancient Rome to the Renaissance”
By Kahren Jones Arbitman
Mon, Nov 23, 5pm
Teatro Ángela Peralta
100 pesos donation to the San Miguel International Music Festival

But how often does anyone really look? After a cursory read of the label and a similar quick glance at the art, people move on, oblivious to any complicated story it might contain. They miss a lot. Since the Gospels offer scant details about Christ’s birth, artists over the ages have been left to fill in the blanks. The results—sometimes profound, sometimes ridiculous—can raise a lot of questions for modern viewers. Why, for example, paintings do artists in Netherland place a skinny Christ-child on the ground with only a few bits of straw for comfort? Or, in Byzantine mosaics, who are the officious women who buzz around the manger fussing over the newborn? Why is the nativity sometimes shown in a stable and other times in a cave? And why is Joseph always so old and grumpy?

This one-hour illustrated lecture will answer these questions, among others, while affording the audience a look at some of western art’s greatest masterpieces. The material proved so rich that it will take two separate lectures to do it justice. The first lecture, “From Ancient Rome to the Renaissance,” takes place Monday, November 23, at 5pm in the Teatro Ángela Peralta. Part two, “From Baroque to Contemporary” follows on Monday, November 30, same time and place. Each is a stand-alone lecture, so its no necessary to hear one to appreciate the other.

Tickets are 100 pesos. All proceeds benefit the San Miguel International Music Festival that this summer celebrates its 38th consecutive year. Tickets are now available at the Festival office on the second floor of the Bellas Artes, or at the door.


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