Christmas  iconography

In the same region there were shepherds who were in the field, tending their flocks during the night watches (Luke 2: 8)

From the 5th to the 15th century, inspired by different texts with supports such as ivory, stone, wood, mural painting, table or canvas, illuminated manuscripts, goldsmithing, mosaic, stained glass or alabaster, the coming into the world of Jesus is represented.

Its iconography varies from the early Christian sarcophagi of the 4th century, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Lutheran Reformation, the Catholic Counter-Reformation, etc.

His gaze was fixed on the intense glow that the light that had been born gave off. That light was gradually condensing and taking the shape of a child. (Book on the childhood of the Savior, apocryphal gospels, anonymous).

This book tells that a pregnant Mary and her husband, José, go to register in Bethlehem.

José goes ahead to look for a place to rest from the trip and finds a stable that seems adequate to shelter people as poor as they are and when María arrives, the time of delivery seems so close that they look for a midwife.

Some plastic representations of the Nativity follow this story, others do not.

Joseph, Mary and the child are not always shown in a stable, nor does the midwife or midwives always appear on the scene, since the images respond to different accounts of the event.

Painters, sculptors and illuminators of manuscripts are inspired by different stories to project them on supports such as ivory, stone, wood, wall painting, panel or canvas, fresco, tempera, oil, goldsmith, mosaic, stained glass or alabaster.

In the Middle Ages the iconography of the Nativity was forged and took root.

At that time, the fusion between religious literature, tradition, art and religion became embedded in the collective imagination and evolved, generating a tradition of what was originally improvisation.

The artist chooses the scene, environment, etc. where to place the group.

The main one is the mother although the protagonist is the child.

She is lying down, sitting or kneeling, although the latter position is hardly used in the Middle Ages.

She sometimes she holds the child in her arms, but usually she is in her crib.

There is no trace of blood or suffering, something logical in childbirth.

Figures of midwives, shepherds, angels, mule, and ox enter and leave the birth scene, depending on the historical period.

Joseph characterized as an old man, he is supposed to be 111 years old, he does not always appear, something common, at a time when men were not approaching childbirth, because it is a woman’s business.

His figure stands or sits, absent from the ensemble or very thoughtful.

The mule and the ox are understood as part of José and María’s trip to register, the mule is used to transport the pregnant wife and the ox to pay the tax.

The midwife or midwives, appear in some scenes of the Birth, in order to give testimony of the birth of a virgin woman.

The landscape of the Nativity in Byzantium, the figures are in a grotto located in a mountainous environment, with a stable, shed, manger or ruins.

The place does not matter so much as highlighting the values ​​of poverty and humility.

The variations in the representation of the Birth are conditioned by the historical period.

The evolution is perceived through the three periods of the Middle Ages, the High, Full and Low Middle Ages.

The first representations are from the time when the persecutions of Christians ended with the proclamation of the Edict of Milan (313).

From there begins the commemoration of the birth of Jesus and the custom of reflecting it in images.

The representation of Mary with the child in the catacomb of Priscilla from the second century, lacks Saint Joseph, mule or ox.

The Magi appear, usual in the first representations of the Nativity and logical because the Nativity is celebrated on January 6, until Pope Liborio, in 354, changes it to December 25 to make it coincide with the winter solstice.

The first representations of the Nativity are found in the 4th century.

The best known of the oldest nativity scene is found in the church of San Pietro Ispano in Boville Ernica (Italy).

It shows the Virgin seated and the child in the cradle and Saint Joseph is not there.

In the 5th century, the Grotto of the Nativity stands out in the Roman churches of Santa María la Mayor or Santa María Ad Praesepem.

550 stand out several carved ivory nativity scenes, among which the Nativity of the Chair of Maximiano stands out, which shows the semi-recumbent Virgin, a typical profile of the Syriac formula, typical of Byzantine art.

In that position, the virgin denotes suffering in childbirth, underscoring the human nature of Christ.

The scene is completed with the child in a kind of manger altar typical of Byzantine representations, Saint Joseph and the midwife Salome, who when examining Mary to check her virginity, remains charred, when she touches the virgin with her finger.

Wood, frescoes or illuminated miniatures are also used to represent the Nativity.

Between the XI-XIII centuries cathedrals, the construction of Romanesque and Gothic churches and cathedrals gave way to a large number of representations of the Nativity in portals, capitals, baptismal fonts, etc.

There are also the illuminated books that help to spread the images of the Nativity.

The Romanesque (XI-XII century) includes the Nativity on the doorways of churches and cathedrals, on interior capitals and in the cloisters, on keys, baptismal fonts and sarcophagi.

And the Gothic (XII-XIII century), essentially in facades and cloisters.

In 1223 the nativity scene begins with the representation of the living nativity scene in Greccio (Italy) by Saint Francis of Assisi, which becomes a tradition, as it is spread by the feminine branch of Franciscanism, the Poor Clares.

The role of painting is also important at this time.

XIV-XV centuries, late medieval period, significant changes take place, both in the scene and in the technique.

It is seen as an indignity to show Mary reclining in natural childbirth, which is of Byzantine origin and shows her sitting holding the child or on her knees worshiping him.

The scene is more quality in the virgin feeding the child.

In Italy, Duccio di Buonisegna, Giotto and Pietro da Rimini stand out.

Fra Angellico

In the first two births they have Byzantine reminiscences and inspiration from the apocryphal gospels, visible in the way of Mary reclining and in the presence of the midwives, Salome and Zelomi.

Pietro da Rimini is the example of change, he paints the Nativity in a small painting with a space to match the announcement of the shepherds and the arrival of the Magi.

In the 14th-15th century, Rogier van der Weyden, Petrus Christus and Gerard David stand out.

Fotos Trianart

Publicado por ilabasmati

Licenciada en Bellas Artes, FilologÍa Hispánica y lIiteratura Inglesa.

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