Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Nativity

Title: The Nativity

Artist: John Singleton Copley

Medium: Oil on canvas

Size: 62 x 76 cm

Date: c. 1776

Location: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

In Luke 2:16-19 it is written that after the appearance of the heavenly host, the shepherds hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.

This birth is no mere arrival of a new life, as poignant as each such event is. The story is not told so that hearers can identify with the new mother and father or enjoy a story of hope, of a touching birth in humble surroundings. This birth has value because of whose birth it is. The shepherds have found that the angel's words were true, that events have transpired just as they had been told. God's word is coming to pass; his plan is again strategically at work. They break out in praise to God because he has sent Jesus, the Savior, Lord and Christ.

"The Nativity" demonstrates Copley's quick assimilation of the rhythmic gestures and flowing style popular in contemporary British painting. The Virgin's white dress is an ancient symbol of purity, but it is also a modern touch, resembling the kind of neoclassical dress that was just becoming fashionable. Copley's wife, Susanna, and their newborn daughter are said to have posed for the composition; perhaps they were also its inspiration. The painting was displayed in 1777 at London's Royal Academy.

John Singleton Copley (b. 1738 – d. 1815) was an American painter, born presumably in Boston, Massachusetts. According to art historian Paul Staiti, Copley was the greatest and most influential painter in colonial America, producing about 350 works of art. With his startling likenesses of persons and things, he came to define a realist art tradition in America.

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