Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Joseph and Mary Travel to the Census

Title: Joseph and Mary Travel to the Census

Artist: William Hole

Medium: Printed book illustration

Size: 29 x 24 cm

Date: c.1908

Location: From “The Life of Jesus of Nazareth Portrayed in Colours.’ London: Eyre & Spottiswoode.

As documented in Luke 2:1-5, in those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world, and everyone went to his own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was expecting her child.

As the decree for the census that leads Joseph and Mary to the city of David, better known as Bethlehem, comes from Caesar Augustus, the census probably sought to produce a registration list for taxes. A journey to the ancestral home would have fit Jewish practice, so that the custom was done in a culturally inoffensive manner. This was important, since an Imperial tax would have been a painful reminder of Israel's position before Rome. That Bethlehem is the town of David links Jesus’ birth with the promise of Micah 5:1-2, from Bethlehem will come “one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” The association of David with the birth sounds a regal note, even if the allusion is made subtlety.

This illustration is one of eighty from the book ‘The Life of Jesus of Nazareth Portrayed in Colours.’ The watercolor paintings were done by British artist William Hole who travelled extensively in the middle east before executing this series of paintings. His aim was to depict what would have been visible to the contemporary observer, a follower of Jesus who recorded incidents of his daily life. Of this illustration he writes “A Syrian Khan or Inn is wholly devoid of privacy. Shallow and unfinished recesses, open for the most part, [...] provide the sole accommodation for travelers, whose animals with their attendants are crowded together in the central area.”

William Hole (b. Salisbury 1846 – d. 1917) relocated to Edinburgh as a youth where he received his education at the Edinburgh Academy. But after serving as an apprentice to a civil engineer in the city, he decided that he wanted to see more of the world. While traveling through Italy he befriended some artists in Rome who convinced him that he should pursue a career in art. On returning to Edinburgh, he began formal training in both painting and etching at the Royal Scottish Academy.

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