It seems like only yesterday that I was immersed in art history classes as the calendar turned to December and the end of the semester loomed large. I knew that each professor – regardless of genre or period being taught – would wrap up his or her final class with a brilliant nativity scene. It was as if it were an art historian’s badge of honor to produce a vivid image accompanied by Merry Christmas greetings.
It’s funny – poignant, really – how some practices not only stick with you, but also become a tradition. Drawing on my art history roots around the holidays always makes me smile as I think about the almost unlimited number of images I can pull from my visual memory bank to capture the joy of the Christmas season.
My “gift” to Woodson Wanderings readers on Christmas Day is an early-sixteenth century Venetian nativity by Giorgione (1477/78 – 1510). While depicting the shepherds adoration of the Christ child, the painting is commonly called the “Allendale Nativity” after one of its previous owners. The painting has been part of the National Gallery of Art’s collection since 1939.
The luminous landscape in the upper left contrasts with the dark cave on the right, behind Mary and Joseph. Mary’s blue cloak shimmers, creating another contrast with the shepherds’ tattered clothes. The shepherds kneel in recognition of Christ’s divinity. The shared adoration of the four adults is unmistakable.
Giorgione’s powerful, yet humble, image is not easily forgotten.
Wishing one and all a Merry Christmas.