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For this reason, the sections concerning each works formal aspects will be deemphasized.
There are two terms you will need to understand in depth for this next section, nativity and annunciation.
According to the Brittanica,
According to the Brittanica,a nativity is a theme in Christian art depicting the newborn Jesus with the Virgin Mary and other figures, following descriptions of Christ's birth in the Gospels and Apocrypha. An old and popular subject with a complicated iconography, the Nativity was first represented in the 4th century, carved on Early Christian Roman sarcophagi, and was later included with other scenes from Christ's life in monumental decoration of Early Christian basilicas. It was a very important subject for Early Christian art from the 5th century because it emphasized the reality of the incarnation of Christ and the validity of the Virgin's newly established (431) title of Theotokos (Mother of God). The Early Christian version of the Nativity shows the Virgin seated, to emphasize that the birth was painless, and the Child, in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. The two, along with an ox and an ass, are under the roof of a barnlike stable. Usually one or two shepherds, who symbolize the revelation of Christ to the Jews, and often also the Magi--Wise Men from the East who symbolize his revelation to the Gentiles--appear in the scene. By the 6th century another version of the Nativity appeared in Syria, becoming universal in the East throughout the Middle Ages, and in Italy until the late 14th century. It differs from the earlier version, which was retained with some modifications in northwestern Europe, mainly in that it shows the Virgin lying on a mattress, thus ignoring the concept of the painless birth. The Child is again in swaddling clothes in a manger, and the ox and ass are retained, but the stable is located not in a barn but in a cave, as was the custom in Palestine. Angels usually hover above the cave, and Joseph sits outside it. The Magi and the shepherds are often present. The announcement of the miraculous birth to the shepherds by an angel and the journey of the Magi may be depicted simultaneously in the background. Another simultaneous representation--the bathing of the Child by two midwives in the foreground--became standard in Eastern Nativities. It probably derives from classical scenes of the birth of the god Dionysus and is a prefiguration of Christ's Baptism. As the emblem of a major feast day, this version of the Nativity figured prominently, usually in its most complicated form, in the liturgical iconography of Byzantine church decoration.
In the late 14th century an abrupt transformation of the iconography of the Nativity occurred throughout western Europe, including Italy, and a second major version came into being. This was essentially an adoration; the most important change is that the Virgin is depicted no longer in the aftermath of childbirth but kneeling before the Child, who is now nude and luminous and lies not in a manger but on the ground on a pile of straw or a fold of the Virgin's mantle. Often Joseph, too, kneels in adoration. Most of the other details, except the ox and ass, are omitted, especially in earlier works. This version, which seems to have spread from Italy, follows in detail--and in fact almost certainly originates with--an account of a vision by St. Bridget of Sweden, an influential 14th-century mystic. Universally adopted in western Europe by the 15th century, this version is widely depicted in altarpieces and other devotional works.
In the Renaissance, angels reappeared, and the scene was often combined with the adoration of the shepherds, which had recently developed as a separate theme. The midwives were still included occasionally. In the 16th century the Council of Trent outlawed the midwives, the ox and ass, and the bathing of Christ as ignoble, apocryphal, and theologically unsound (the bathing of the Child is inconsistent with the doctrine of a pure and supernatural birth).
In the 17th century a more prosaic representation reappeared, with the Virgin again reclining and holding the Child. After the 17th century, despite the decline of Christian religious art in general, the Nativity remained an important theme in the popular arts.
"Nativity." Britannica 2001 Standard Edition CD-ROM. Copyright © 1994-2001 Britannica.com Inc. November 17, 2002.
the Annunciation in Christianity, the announcement by the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary that she would conceive a Son of the Holy Spirit to be called Jesus (Luke 1:26-38). The Feast of the Annunciation, one of the principal feasts of the Christian church, is celebrated on March 25 (Lady Day). The first authentic allusions to the feast (apart from the Gelasian and Gregorian sacramentaries, in both of which it is mentioned) are in acts of the Council of Toledo (656) and of the Trullan Council (692).
Because its significance is much more than narrative, the Annunciation had a particularly important place in the arts and church decoration of the early Christian and medieval periods and in the devotional art of the Renaissance and Baroque. Moreover, because, in Christian doctrine, the event coincides with the Incarnation of Christ, it also represents a prelude to the redemption of the world.
"Annunciation." Britannica 2001 Standard Edition CD-ROM. Copyright © 1994-2001 Britannica.com Inc. November 17, 2002.
Duccio di Buoninsegna, The Nativity with the Prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel, 1308/1311
This panel in the National Gallery, Washington DC
|Form: The rendering of each of the figures is fairly naturalistic and the clothing, drapery and poses are somewhat reminiscent of Nicola Pisano's Nativity, from the Baptistery Pulpit panel and carvings such from the Parthenon's pediment. Several of the figures, such as the main one which depicts Mary and the child (Jesus) are repeated because several scenes are simultaneously being represented. This kind of continuous narrative is common in Byzantine, Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance art. Iconography: This is a nativity scene that at first appears to take place in a manger but it also contains the baptism of Christ as well. The center of the scene Mary reclines in a pose very reminiscent of the Goddesses from Parthenon. In the lower left foreground of the image is the baptism of Christ. |
She pulls away slightly from Gabriel as he announces that she will be having the son of god demonstrating a very human response and therefore humanistic perspective. Above her head flying in through the combination Gothic/Triumphal arch is the holy spirit which is represented as a dove. This is also a reference to the story of Noah as a typology. The architectural structure is designed to look like both a Church and a triumphal arch. This is representative of Mary's house as the house of God and a place of worship. The scepter Gabriel holds represents triumph. Between the two figures is a vessel filled with lilies. The vessel refers to Mary's role as the "vessel of God" and the white flowers refer to her purity. In fact there is a whole iconographic system devoted to flowers and Mary.
Plant forms figure powerfully into this kind of image. Between the two figures is a vessel filled with lilies. The vessel refers to Mary's role as the "vessel of God" and the white flowers refer to her purity. In fact there is a whole iconographic system devoted to flowers and Mary. The olive branch is a reference to the story of Noah in which the dove brings an olive branch back to the ark and this is a symbol of God's renewed covenant with Noah. The wreath of olives around Gabriel's head is a similar refernce both also refers to the Greek and Roman traditions of honoring heroes and athletes with the laurel wreaths on there head as an impromptu crown. It may also be a reference to Christ's crwon of thorns. The central panel of the altar is in a tripartite division (three part). This is possibly a reference to the holy trinity which is "in Christian doctrine, the unity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as three persons in one Godhead," according to the Brittanica. It also designed to look like the arches in a Gothic church. In the central bay of the image is an image of the holy spirit surrounded by a series of cherubim in the form of sparrows. The sparrow comes up quite a bit as a symbol of the word of God and as cherubim.
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