Monthly Archives: December 2013

Six Days of Advent: The Census at Bethlehem

The Census at Bethlehem, 1566, by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. If this looks a little cold even for December in Antwerp, bear in mind that he was painting at the beginning of the Little Ice Age. In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was […]

Six Days of Advent: The Annunciation to Joseph

The Dream of St. Joseph by Georges de La Tour. Most of us aren’t even aware that there was an Annunciation to Joseph. The Merode altarpiece, below, pretty much reflects our impression: we’re there (in the guise of the donors) listening as the Angel Gabriel drops his world-changing news, while Joseph whittles obliviously off to […]

Six Days of Advent: The Annunciation to Mary

The Annunciation Triptych, 1440, by Rogier van der Weyden, has the compressed version from the Gospel of Luke, almost in comic-book form—Zecheriah praying in his lonely temple, Gabriel surprising Mary while she reads Scripture, Mary meeting with Elizabeth, in whose womb the young John the Baptist leaps in recognition. The story of the Incarnation opens […]

When artists retire

“This was the first window I did,” said Gowing. “The window represents Holy Communion with grapes standing in for wine, and to my delight, John found glass that looked just like matzoh, the original communion bread. He painted in the air holes and edges. To date, John still hasn’t ever seen a matzoh in person, […]

A New Status Quo

The Death of Marat, 1793, by Jacques-Louis David, is imbued with both emotional connection and revolutionary fervor. Jacques-Louis David was not merely a painter; he was, above all, a revolutionary. Moreover, he had perfect pitch for the sentiments of the age. In the 1780s, as French opinion stiffened against the Ancien Régime, David was painting severe […]

Selective Roman virtues

Mrs. Siddons as the Tragic Muse, by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1783. A Welsh former lady’s maid, Sarah Siddons went on to be recognized as the greatest tragedienne of her age. As an actress she was outside social mores. She was painted by both Gainsborough and Reynolds, whose portrait of her is more typical of a […]

Enlightenment family values

Sir Robert and Lady Buxton and Their Daughter Anne, 1786, by Henry Walton. Those of us who look with dismay on recent trends in family structure might be surprised to learn that we are not the only age that has redefined family relationships. Prior to the Enlightenment, very few children appeared in paintings. Unless you were […]

Portrait of the artist

Sir Joshua Reynolds painted himself as a man of letters, in his robes as a Doctor of Civil Law at Oxford (1776). Note the absolute absence of any paint on that outfit. Prior to the middle of the 18th century, fine artists were considered craftsmen. While they may have been very successful and well-paid, they […]

Monarchs and Militants

Portrait of King George III, 1779, by Sir Joshua Reynolds The Age of Revolution was a time of great change in the intellectual and political life of Europe and America. Portrait painting—previously considered an inferior art—rose in prominence. On the one hand, portraits reached a peak of representational virtuosity. At the same time, they became overwhelmingly […]

More on that Christian art thing

Knight, Death and the Devil, woodcut, by Albrecht Dürer, 1513 Part of the heated discussion that ensued after my post Friday about the so-called problem of Christian music expressed a general irritation with performers who identify themselves as Christian artists. We’re all aware of the capacity of modern artists to drape themselves over the cross […]