Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Twelve Days of Christmas - Day 7

Title: Seven Sacraments Altarpiece
Artist: Rogier van der Weyden
Medium: Oil on panel
Size: 200 x 223 cm
Date: c. 1445
Location: Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp.

On the seventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me, seven swans a swimming...

The seven swans are thought to represent the seven sacraments of the church. As represented in this altarpiece by Netherlands painter Rogier van der Weyden, the seven sacraments are, beginning with the left hand panel: baptism, confirmation, and penance; the sacrament of the Eucharist is being performed in the central image; the right-hand part contains the sacraments of ordination, marriage, and extreme unction. The angels hovering above these scenes wear the appropriate liturgical colors, and are holding scrolls with texts explaining the significance of the various sacraments.

Monday, December 30, 2013

The Twelve Days of Christmas - Day 6

Title: Creator of Heaven and Earth
Artist: James B. Janknegt
Medium: Oil on canvas
Size: 90 X 60 cm
Date: 2010
Location: Property of the artist.

On the sixth day of Christmas my true love gave to me, six geese a laying...

The six geese a laying are said to represent the six days of creation. In this painting by Texas native James B. Janknegt, the six days are represented in an arc around a depiction of the Holy Trinity:
- Day 1 - God created light and separated it from the darkness, calling light "day" and darkness "night."
- Day 2 - God created an expanse to separate the waters and called it "sky."
- Day 3 - God created the dry ground and gathered the waters, calling the dry ground "land," and the gathered waters "seas." On day three, God also created plants and trees.
- Day 4 - God created the sun, moon, and the stars to give light to the earth and to govern and separate the day and the night.
- Day 5 - God created every creature of the seas and every winged bird.
- Day 6 - God created the animals to fill the earth. God also created man and woman, blessed them and gave them every creature and the whole earth to rule over, care for, and cultivate.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Twelve Days of Christmas - Day 5

Title: Moses Smashing the Tablets of the Law
Artist: Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn
Medium: Oil on canvas
Size: 168.5 cm x 136.5 cm 
Date: 1659
Location: Gemäldegalerie, Berlin.

On the fifth day of Christmas my true love gave to me, five golden rings...
Five Golden Rings have been interpreted to represent the Pentateuch, or Five Books of Moses (Genesis through Deuteronomy). The King James Version of the Bible introduces Genesis as “the first book of Moses” numbering all the books down to Deuteronomy as the “fifth book of Moses”. There are scholarly hypotheses that indicate Moses himself may not have actually written all five books, but the tradition of Mosaic authorship is still considered when reviewing the work. It does not make the Scripture any less the inspired word of God, for God uses human instruments here on earth to further his kingdom.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Twelve Days of Christmas - Day 4

Title: Christ in Glory
Artist: Unknown
Medium: Tempera on parchment  
Size: tbd.
Date: 17th-century
Location: British Library, London.

On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me four calling birds...

Four Calling birds represent the Four Gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke & John. This image, from an illuminated manuscript held at the British Library, London, is of the Christ in Glory, surrounded by traditional images depicting the Four Evangelists. Matthew, the author of the first gospel account is symbolized by a winged man, or angel. Mark, author of the second gospel account is symbolized by a winged lion – a figure of courage and monarchy. Luke, author of the third gospel account (and the Acts of the Apostles) is symbolized by a winged ox or bull – a figure of sacrifice, service and strength. John the Evangelist, author of the fourth gospel is symbolized by an eagle – a figure of the sky, and believed to be able to look straight into the sun.

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Twelve Days of Christmas - Day 3

Title: Holy Trinity
Artist: Hendrick van Balen the Elder
Medium: Oil on panel  
Size: tbd.
Date: c. 1620s
Location: St. James' Church, Antwerp.

On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me three french hens...

Three French Hens would most likely be representative of the Holy Trinity. The Christian doctrine of the Trinity teaches the unity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as three persons in one Godhead. In this painting Hendrick van Balen the Elder, a Flemish Baroque painter, has depicted the three in their traditional guises: God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit as a dove.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Twelve Days of Christmas - Day 2

Title: The Infant Savior
Artist: Andrea Mantegna
Medium: Tempera on canvas 
Size: 70.2 x 34.3 cm
Date: c. 1460
Location: The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me two turtle doves...
This stanza can be identified with either the pairing of the Old & New Testaments, or the two natures of Jesus: human and divine. Mantegna has chosen to represent the latter theme, with the infant Jesus portrayed in a decidedly un-childlike manner. Portraying Jesus in this manner depicts that he is aware of his divinity and still He chooses to remain as an infant. To further this point the artist shows Jesus’ right hand raised in the sign of blessing. This is obviously not something a normal infant would do and is meant to show that Jesus is more than just an infant. These and other similar symbols are used throughout the ages.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Twelve Days of Christmas - Day 1

Title: Crucifixion
Artist: Franz von Stuck
Medium: Tempera on canvas
Size: 190 x 165 cm
Date: tbd.
Location: Museum der Bildenden Künste, Leipzig.
A bit of modern folklore asserts that the lyrics of the Christmas carol “The Twelve days of Christmas” were written as a catechism song to help young Catholics learn their faith at a time when practising Catholicism was criminalized in England (1558 - 1829). As summarized by Wikipedia: “There is no primary evidence supporting this claim, and no evidence that the claim is historical, or anything but a fanciful modern day speculation.” Indeed, the theory seems of relatively recent origin, first suggested by Canadian English teacher and hymnologist Hugh D. McKellar in a short article published in 1979. Regardless, the idea that the lyrics of the carol can represent something more than “merely an irreligious travesty” gives the song a deeper, more resonant meaning. And with that in mind, “The Twelve Days of Christmas”:
On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me, a Partridge in a Pear Tree.
The symbolism speaks clearly to the image of Jesus on the Cross. Jesus Christ, symbolized as a mother partridge that feigns injury to decoy predators from helpless nestlings. And the pear tree represented as cross.