Shopping and Adoration

Let’s talk Christmas!! It’s happening, guys! Jesus was born and there’s no canceling something that happened thousands of years before stupid Covid. I want to share some beautiful Christmas-y art, but first I want to put a plug in for some art-related gifts.

1.      The Met Store. Or any museum store. Obviously, art museums are not having their best year, so this is a great way to support them! Most of them ship and have a wide range of fun artsy gifts and stocking stuffers for big and little budgets. Starry Night umbrella? Yup! Bajillion dollar piece of art? Yup! I found a darling fairy garden set for my niece over the summer at a museum shop. She’s going to love it!

2.      Etsy. I found so many awesome gifts on Etsy this year! A cute hand-stitched pillow for my mother-in-law, a sweet hockey decal for my daughter’s bedroom wall, a goat wallet for my other daughter, beautiful ornaments made from sea glass for each kid.

3.       Local artists. I contacted a local artist I am familiar with and asked about a project for my mom. She was happy to oblige. It’s my favorite thing I’ve ever purchased for my mom! Art galleries have great gifts by local artists. Also? Tap into your friends’ talents! I bought super cool greeting cards from one of my girlfriends and another is selling gorgeous wreaths. People love artsy gifts with a personal connection and it’s SO much better than a gift card!

4.       Indie book stores. Every one I go into has great, kitschy stuff! Local friends, Schuler’s has a section with Frida Kahlo air fresheners and erasers shaped like Van Gogh’s ear. What art lover wouldn’t want that?!

If you’re already done shopping or an artist can’t deliver before Christmas, don’t worry, you can buy stuff for friends and family year-round! These places are always happy to take your money! ?

Speaking of presents… how about those gifts the Magi brought baby Jesus? Here is how Sandro Boticelli imagined the scene:

If you really zoom in, Jesus’ halo is just barely visible and his fat little baby fingers are raised in blessing. Then I’m sure they went right back into his mouth afterward. The man (presumably) drying Jesus’ feet is Cosimo de’ Medici and not the only Medici in the painting. Piero, Giuliano, and Lorenzo are also featured, as is Botticelli himself. He’s the guy on the far right, scrutinizing viewers.

Another cool figure worth pointing out is the horse on the far left. Art scholars suspect that’s a callback to Leonardo da Vinci, who was an accomplished musician and supposedly made a lyre shaped like a horse’s head. (Side note: Leonardo’s Adoration of the Magi is in the Uffizi Gallery, along with Botticelli’s. Remind me to do a compare/contrast post someday on Botticelli and da Vinci.) If you zoom in, you can see the horse is about to bite the arm of the guy in red… who is Guiliano Medici’s assassin!

Silly me- I thought this was just a painting of the wise men coming to worship Jesus. Nothing is ever that simple, is it? But then, Jesus knew a thing or two about scandal and dirty politics, so maybe it is fitting after all.

The Mystical Nativity

In keeping with our Jesus theme this month, let me present The Mystical Nativity by Sandro Botticelli:

The first interesting thing about this painting is that it’s the only work Botticelli ever signed. The next interesting thing is that it was influenced by Girolamo Savonarola, the friar who took over Florence when the Medici family was overthrown. He was quite self-righteous and had some strong opinions about how Christians should be living. Savonarola thought most of the Florentine Renaissance art showed “moral weakness” and ordered it burned. 

Sidebar: Here are some of my moral weaknesses: chocolate, caffeine, naps, bread, the Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich, Netflix. To name a few.  

The jury is out on whether Botticelli was a follower of Savonarola, but either way a bunch of his paintings were burned (maybe he did that himself, maybe Savonarola’s men had it done.) The Mystical Nativity, however, did not burn, and there is evidence it was heavily influenced by one particular sermon Savonarola did about Jesus’ death. Funny, because it’s a nativity scene, but there are some foreshadowing bits like the cave in the back (reminiscent of Jesus’ tomb) and the sheet on which Jesus sits is representative of the shroud he is wrapped in about thirty-two years later.

Botticelli must have had an inkling the painting would create a ruckus because rather than paint it on wood as he normally would have, it is on canvas so it could be rolled up and hidden more easily. Which it was. For about 300 years before art lover William Young Otley bought it (nobody even knew who Botticelli was at that point!). Today it hangs in the National Gallery in London. Good thinking to put it on canvas, Sandro!

Infared technology has revealed the inscriptions on the angels’ ribbons as the twelve privileges of Mary, which Savonarola preached about. There is also a Greek inscription on the top, which was calls back verses in Revelation, another part of Savonarola’s sermon. At the bottom angels are embracing Gentiles, and if you look carefully there are demons escaping into the underworld, where they can just STAY PUT. Secret inscriptions? Somber foreshadowing? Demons in the nativity? This really is a Mystical Nativity.