Shepherds In The Museum

Nativity

The Nativity by John Singleton Copley

After almost a month of not being able to leave our apartment, John and I took advantage of yesterday’s mild weather by visiting the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. We focused primarily on European art, but inevitably wound up in the Early American section (my favorite).

We had been looking at several European depictions of the Nativity by Flemish, Italian and French artists prior to going to the American galleries. We felt amused by renditions that made the Christ Child look like a stiff idol of wood, puzzled that Joseph appeared as a balding man in his seventies, and grieved that the artists emphasized Mary over Jesus.

So when we saw John Singleton Copley’s The Nativity in the Early American galleries, we more than appreciated the realism (well, except for Mary wearing a clean white garment after just giving birth) and the obvious reverence of Christ.  John noticed that Mary looked tired from delivering her firstborn, but also as if she pondered the miraculous event of bringing the Messiah,  her Savior, into the world.

John also noticed the young shepherd in the left foreground, pointing to the Babe with wonder as he tells unseen others that he sees Christ the Lord, just as the angels had predicted.

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest,
    and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. ~~Luke 2:8-20 (ESV)

I believe Copley captured Luke’s narrative exquisitely, don’t you? What a treat to see this pictorial encapsulation of the Christmas story at this wonderful time of year!

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