Here’s a truly “Pre-Raphaelite” painting for you all! This Nativity scene was painted by Conrad von Soest in 1403. Von Soest, who was born in 1370 in Dortmund, was considered one of the greatest artists in Westphalia. He introduced the “International Courtly Style” of art to Northern Germany, and influenced Northern European art throughout the 15th century.
This image captured my eye because of its domesticity! For one thing, it was the first time I’d seen a nativity scene that featured Joseph cooking for his new family! Mary and Jesus look so tender as well (get a closer look at the expressions on their faces, and you’ll know what I mean!).
Perhaps it’s because this is my first Christmas with a little baby of my own, but this year I wanted to see rather more familial tenderness and a bit less distanced adoration among the Holy Family. No doubt Charles Dickens (who considered Milais’ “Christ in the House of His Parents” sacrilegious for its frank portrayal of Christ’s family) wouldn’t have been very impressed with von Soest’s more familial portrayal of the Nativity scene, but I’m sure the Pre-Raphaelites would have loved it!
On a side note, I find the ahistorical touches, such as the medieval clothing and any number of details in the painting, rather charming. Besides, I sometimes wonder if medieval artists were just trying to make historical paintings approachable for their audience. Perhaps by giving historical figures contemporary clothing and accoutrements, von Soest was ensuring that his audience would spend less time wondering why Mary and Joseph were wearing funny clothes! (what modern child didn’t grow up asking their parents why Joseph ran around in a skirt and sandals all the time – I know I did!).
Happy Holidays to all, and much prosperity and happiness in the New Year!
Image courtesy of Wikipedia.