By DARLA MCCAMMON
Lakeland Art Association
Nativity sets have inspired many levels of interest. Not only for the religious at Christmas time, but also for antique collectors and those who appreciate art. Sometimes called a “crèche,” the nativity design is open to the imagination of the artist and many take liberties with what may have been the actual scene. Some sets are simple, featuring only the Christ child, Mary and Joseph. Other sets are large and include numerous characters.
I am sharing with you two very different artists and two very different approaches to portraying that night considered most important to Christians around the world.
The first artist is Federico Barocci. Barocci was born in Urbino Italy. His father was a sculptor and sent his son to study under some important and prestigious artists of the time in a studio in Rome. Barocci learned well and soon returned to his home. In 1597 he created a painting titled “Nativity.”
This painting is now hanging in the Prado in Madrid, Spain. Barocci became famous for the techniques he used in this painting. Notice the soft almost pearl-like pastel effect that won him prominence. Also unusual is the positioning of the child to the far right, yet one’s eye is automatically focused there due to Joseph and Mary both leading us that direction. Even the animals have all eyes on the infant.
Barocci was known to make an enormous number of sketches when approaching a new project. Changes in light were frequent, composition was considered over and over. This lovely and unusual work is the result of such careful study.
Our second artist, Gerard van Honthorse, painted an illuminating work featuring the nativity in 1622 and gives an entirely different view with his interpretation of that night.
Honthorst was from the Netherlands, but also went to Rome for training. Honthorse was particularly influenced by Caravaggio. Notice the exquisite use of light by Honthorse. He became notable for this effect, used by many Dutch Masters such as Rembrandt, in which scant light brought subjects into strong relief against pitch black darkness. The child radiates light and is revered by shepherds, animals and parents.
Honthorst eventually returned to the Netherlands where he became popular and successful. He came under the patronage of the English monarchy and many portraits were done for such notables as the King and Queen of Bohemia, Lord Dorchester and The Duke of Buckingham. Some of his paintings reflected scenes that were lit by a single candle!
These paintings are undoubtedly valuable, but did you know that Créches and nativity sets have also increased in value? Today enthusiasts collect them. A single Neapolitan Jesus was purchased a few years ago for $400. It is now worth $5,000.
But the real joy is in sharing and reliving that glorious moment so revered in paintings and nativity sets. For many around the world, the nativity has a priceless, deep appeal and is appreciated along with other classic reminders of the event for which we all celebrate Christmas.
Upcoming and current events:
- Teresa Smith’s great exhibit is now open at the Warsaw City Hall gallery. 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. weekdays. Free admission.
- More info on LAA can be found at www.lakelandartassociation.org or on Facebook. Call (574) 594-9950 or contact Darla at [email protected]