December 24, 2018

Merry Christmas!

        Here are a pair of block printed nativity scenes, pretty well spanning the history of block printed nativity scenes.  First is a wood or metal cut from a 1506 book of hours.  The borders at the bottom certainly look more like metal cuts with their background patterns of little white dots on black, but the borders wouldn’t be printed by the same block as the main picture anyway.  The picture looks more like a woodcut, except for the white-spotted black background of the star, so I don’t know.  I think the star is rather clever, incorporated on the architecture so that it can be shining over the Holy Family even while the entire scene is framed in elaborate Gothic architecture.  This particular scene is actually not Christmas night but the arrival of the Three Kings, and I like the way Jospeh has removed his hat and is looking humbly at the kings, while the first king has removed his crown and is humbly adoring the infant.



        Rick Beerhorst’s modern nativity has in common with the sixteenth century one that in both cases the Holy Family are dressed in contemporary clothes rather than attempting to depict the scene in an historical context.  For me, the modern setting, complete with bare lightbulb, serves as a reminder of the humanity of a poor family far from home, doing the best they can to care for their newborn - a story that is happening all over the world right now, every day.  It’s pretty clear that Jesus’s experiences influenced his teachings that we are to welcome the stranger, care for the poor and the lost, and celebrate children.  In honor of Christmas, let’s all try to do a little better at that this year!

[Picture: Three Kings, wood or metal cut print from a Book of Hours printed by Anthoine Verard, 1506 (Image from Les Enluminures);
Untitled nativity, wood block print by Rick Beerhorst (Image from Studio Beerhorst).]

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