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The Art of the Nativity

By Kahren Jones Arbitman

Beginning in the fifth century with a simple image of the swaddled Christ child attended by ox and ass, the art of the Nativity evolved over the centuries to include some rather extraordinary interpretations of exactly what happened on Christmas Eve in Bethlehem. This second lecture on the “Art of the Nativity” continues the visual evolution that began last week in ancient Rome and finished in 15th-century Netherlands. The Italian Renaissance, with vast murals and sumptuous altarpieces, as often as not, includes recognizable noblemen dressed to the teeth in the latest fashion. The old order of art, following strict church dictates, was unravelling. One renowned Florentine painter went so far as to prominently include, near the stable, a martyred friend who had been burned at the stake.

“The Art of the Nativity”
Part Two: “From Renaissance to Contemporary”
Mon, Nov 30, 5pm
Bellas Artes
100 pesos to benefit
San Miguel International Music Festival

Poignant interpretations by Caravaggio and Rembrandt of damp, dark stables warmed by the glowing newborn capture the evolving realism of the 17th century. Ragged shepherds with awestruck faces replace Renaissance dandies. A century later, Tiepolo and fellow Rococo artists envision the whole event through a frothy, pastel lens that remains much too prissy for most modern tastes.

Later, when artists are largely freed from church commissions and begin to interpret the events of the Nativity on personal terms, all sorts of things happen. “Accepted” ways to depict the birth of Christ are set aside. Personal visions take over. As early as 1800, William Blake shocks his viewers with a scene showing the newborn Christ catapulting from his mother’s body into the arms of an awaiting saint. It would take another 150 years for another artist to see the Nativity in such otherworldly terms. His name, not surprisingly, is Salvador Dali.

In between, Gauguin moves his nativity to Tahiti, and Norman Rockwell takes his to Middle America. Along the way, this one-hour illustrated lecture will afford the audience a look at some of Western art’s greatest masterpieces. The lecture takes place on Monday, November 30, at 5pm in the second floor lecture hall of the Belles Artes. Please note: this is a change in venue from the location announced earlier. Tickets are 100 pesos. All proceeds benefit the San Miguel International Music Festival that is already planning its 38th consecutive festival to take place in August.

Lecture tickets are now available at the festival office on the second floor of the Bellas Artes or at the door, 100 pesos donation to the San Miguel International Music Festival.


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