Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Sunday I had the opportunity to go on a personal guided tour at the Cleveland Museum of Art of Nativity paintings. The tour was led by a member of my choir who is also an art docent at the museum. (I also learned from the room with the large and magnificent paintings of five of the muses is that MUSE is where the word MUSEUM comes from! Also MUSIC! Somehow that never occured to me - but I digress.)
The painting at the top is The Holy Family on the Steps by Nicholas Poussin, a French painter (1594-1665). The other one is The Holy family with Mary Magdala by El Greco (1541-1614)These, and most of religious paintings we know today were required by the Catholic church of that time.
In both paintings Mary is shown wearing red and blue. The red signifies her humanness (blood) and the blue was to show that she belonged to heaven. The light shining down and brightening the baby and Mary's images is of course heavenly.Both paintings also contain fruit which tells us that God already tried to make a perfect human in Adam and Eve but the fruit brought the downfall of humans.
Having Mary Magdala in a painting with the baby Jesus is erroneous since she would have not been around then and also would have been closer to Jesus's age. It is thought that El Greco was required to put someone's relative in the painting and they called her Mary Magdala. Mary looks innocent, young and virginal next to the woman in scarlet.
In the Poussin painting Joseph is relegated to the shadows. This was the case in many of the paintings - showing his secondary part in the story.The significance of the family blocking the steps is to show that you can only get to the beautiful blue heavens through them. Elizabeth and John (the Baptist) are sitting with them.