The present series, to which a new text will be added every two weeks, takes what may seem a rather contemporary approach: works of art are presented from the point of view of the person portrayed—the Virgin Mary.
We would like to provide a gentle note of reminder: sympathetic identification with the protagonist was the original purpose of precious votive paintings, long before such works came to be exhibited in museums in the 19th century.
The shepherds were busy at night protecting their precious herds in open country, as one says. A heavenly messenger interrupted the pastoral idyll: in Bethlehem a child is born, they should visit him, for he is the Messiah. They would find the baby in a manger wrapped in swaddling clothes.
The small room is filled: Joseph stands off to the left, in the shadows, as always in fact. Next to him is St. Francis of Assisi, illuminated somewhat more brightly. I must admit, he is here for reasons that I cannot quite follow.
Perhaps my patron desired his presence, though this deviates from the Biblical text.
There he now lies.
In a crib of simple wooden planks, a bit of straw, and a length of leather to shield from the damp and prickly bedding, and finally a generous expanse of brilliantly white cloth that, as though the crib was already altar, falls over its edges. I hold up a corner of the cloth, in a gesture of protection, presentation and love.
Jesus appears in a bright light–or is he himself its source?
The light shines from the upper right upon him and his crib. Upon my face and gown too, and on the magnificent head of the ox, which seems to be overseeing the scene to make sure that no one ignores the Christmas wonder. The light shines too on the tools on the left edge, on the sheep bound and lying below the crib, the shoulders of the elder shepherd, and on the round face of his younger companion, who looks beyond the picture’s confines. The shepherd’s dog on the right has not been left out. He gazes in my direction, after all I have something to show.
A wonderful child, so gentle and well-nourished, so friendly and without fear: all eyes are directed towards him. He betrays no sign of shyness. All is peaceful. The kings too will come. And receive him with the same honours. Jesus is here for all.