Saturday, December 24, 2016

Jonathan Jones :Look closer at nativity paintings – and see visions of apocalypse

By Jonathan Jones
Foretells the end of days … a detail from Sandro Botticelli’s Mystic Nativity (1500). Photograph: National Gallery, London
Nativity scenes are the art we see at Christmas, often on cards that put a masterpiece on the mantelpiece. Yet we close our eyes to the reality of this art. We turn Renaissance and baroque paintings into empty kitsch when we appropriate them as part of modern Christmas celebrations, which in truth have little in common with the much more religious world that created these images. Look a bit harder and the great paintings of the nativity story that we sentimentalise at Christmas are full of death and decay. Some are are literally apocalyptic. [link]
'Mystic Nativity' 1500, Sandro Botticelli
Sandro Botticelli goes even further. His Mystic Nativity sees the holy birth not in cute human terms but as the event that ultimately foretells the Last Judgment, the end of days and the coming of a new heaven and a new earth. Devils flee into hell as angels soar aloft. Of course Renaissance and baroque artists find joy and hope in the nativity. Angels rejoice, dumb animals recognise the weight of this moment, and all eyes are on the child who will redeem the world. It doesn’t have much in common with the festive fun of our modern, highly secularised and commercial Christmas. These paintings are about death and resurrection and the shock of revelation. That nativity scene on a card is an opportunity for a moment of meditation amid the tinsel. More Silent Night than Jingle Bells.