December 24, 2021

Merry Christmas!

         Today I have four block prints showing a variety of depictions of Christmas scenes.  Up first is a classic renaissance Holy Family by Hans Sebald Beham (Germany, 1500-1550).  Joseph is hard to see, way down low behind Mary - I like to imagine that he’s playing peek-a-boo with Jesus, who is reaching out to him.  For a selection of earlier fifteenth and sixteenth century woodcuts of the nativity, you can see my previous post Nativity 1 in a series tracing depictions of the holy family in relief block prints through the ages.  (The more modern depictions are covered in Nativity 2 and Nativity 3, as well as two more I posted for Christmas 2018.)
        My next Christmas scene for you is set in Africa and I really enjoy the elephant adoring the infant!  This is by Azaria Mbatha (South Africa, b.1941) about whom you can learn more - and even see another episode from the Christmas story - at a previous post.  
Mbatha is known for imbuing his Biblical scenes with African culture and sensibilities, and I think it works really well.  Another of his characteristics is including multiple scenes in each piece, and in this case the four corners each include another scene.  The lower left looks like it may be the three wise men riding in on an elephant, and I’m guessing the lower right may represent the shepherds.    The upper corners look like scenes from the life of Jesus, preaching on the left, and his baptism on the right.
        With the third piece, by Mary Amelia Kretsinger (USA, 1915-2001), we get even more abstract.  Without the title “Christmas,” you probably wouldn’t associate this with Christmas at all, but Kretsinger has let us know that this isn’t just any ordinary star.  I’m actually not sure quite how she made this piece.  If she carved away between the black lines, how is the grain still showing?  So is it perhaps printed with two layers of black, one for the wood grain and then a second for the stronger outlines?  Plus there’s grey and brown presumably printed separately.  I like to think of the brown and black blocks in the lower left as representing the inn and stable, but given that there’s another black block in the upper right, they may not be intended to be anything but abstract shapes.
        And continuing with the star, here are the three wise men heading toward it in a Christmas card design by Herschel C. Logan (USA, 1901-1987).  (Logan made a whole annual series of Christmas card designs and perhaps next year I’ll do a whole post on them.)  I will leave you with Logan’s wish: to those who celebrate Christmas, may it be Very Merry indeed!

[Pictures: Holy Family under a Canopy, woodcut by Hans Sebald Beham, c 1530 (Image from Vassar College);

Nativity scene, linocut by Azaria Mbatha, second half 20th century (Image from MutualArt);

Christmas, color woodcut by Mary Amelia Kretsinger, 1974 (Image from Kansas State University);

Christmas card, color woodcut by Herschel C. Logan, 1925 (Image from Kansas State University).]


Charlotte (MotherOwl) said...

Thanks for this collection. I like the adoring elephant!
May you have a blessed Christmas time no matter what and how you celebrate.

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Thanks, Charlotte. Same to you!