Fourth Sunday of Advent

Philippe de Champaigne Dream of St. Joseph 1642-1643 National Gallery, London

Philippe de Champaigne
Dream of St. Joseph
1642-1643
National Gallery, London

… behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said,
“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. . .

When Joseph awoke,
he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him
and took his wife into his home.”

Joseph The Dreamer

Giotto The Birth of Jesus Scrovegni Chapel 1300 Padua

Giotto
The Birth of Jesus Scrovegni Chapel
1300
Padua

The Mystical Nativity, 1500-01, Sandro Botticelli

The Mystical Nativity, 1500-01, Sandro Botticelli, National Gallery, London

GENTILE DA FABRIANO  Nativity  1423  Tempera on wood, 32 x 75 cm  Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

GENTILE DA FABRIANO
Nativity
1423
Tempera on wood, 32 x 75 cm
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:
Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,

which means “God is with us.”

Robert Campin, Merode Altarpiece, oil on oak panel, 1425-28 (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Robert Campin, Merode Altarpiece, oil on oak panel, 1425-28 (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

The Merode Altarpiece is one of the great masterpieces of Northern Renaissance art. The use of objects from the material world to symbolize spiritual ideas, the effort to make the divine accessible to us and part of our world, and the attention to clarity and detail—at the expense of creating a coherent space—are all basic characteristics of the Northern Renaissance style.

St. Joseph (right panel)

51AKXMqrGyL__SY450_The panel on the far right depicts St. Joseph (Mary’s husband), who was a carpenter by trade. He is shown in his carpenter’s shop. Here is one of the amazing characteristics of Northern Renaissance art. Nearly every item that we see in the Merode Altarpiece—even though is looks like an ordinary object—is really a religious symbol. For example, the tools that Joseph is working with are a symbol of the Passion of Christ, the lilies symbolize Mary’s virginity, and the candle that has just been extinguished tells us that this is the moment when God takes human form, and his exclusively divine nature is gone. The material world is imbued with spiritual meaning, with the divine. This is one of the defining characteristics of Northern Renaissance art. But it is not only in their paintings that the people of Flanders used everyday objects to symbolize spiritual ideas; this was a part of their way of thinking.

The Symbolism of the Mouse Trap in the Joseph Panel

The Central Panel

2mero_c

“The Annunciation Triptych” was conceived as an object of private devotion. Although scholars have given complex interpretations for its iconography, the significance of the imagery must have been understood by the ordinary educated person of its time. The center panel focuses on the Virgin in prayer. As she has not yet recognized the presence of the archangel Gabriel, the event depicted is the moment just before the Annunciation. Some objects, such as the lily and the laver, symbolize the Virgin’s purity expressed through the divine birth of Christ. The tiny figure of the Christ Child bearing a cross and descending on rays of light from the round window indicates that the primary subject is the Incarnation. This understanding is borne out by the flame of the candle, symbolic of God’s divinity, which has just been extinguished, a further reference to the Incarnation, the moment when God became man. This significant detail is placed in the exact center of the composition.

Nova, nova, Ave fit ex Eva.

 

Gabriel of high degree,
He came down from Trinity,
From Nazareth to Galilee.
Nova, nova.

Nova, nova, Ave fit ex Eva.

I met a maiden in a place,
I kneeled down afore her face
And said, “Hail Mary, full of grace!”
Nova, nova.

Nova, nova, Ave fit ex Eva.

When the maiden heard tell of this
She was full sore abashed y-wis
And weened that she had done amiss.
Nova, nova.

Nova, nova, Ave fit ex Eva.

Then said the Angel, “Dread not thou,
For ye be conceived with great virtue,
Whose name shall be called Jesu”.
Nova, nova.

Nova, nova, Ave fit ex Eva.

“It is not yet six weeks agone
Sin Elizabeth conceived John
As it was prophesied beforn.”
Nova, nova.

Nova, nova, Ave fit ex Eva.

Then said the maiden, “Verily,
I am your servant right truly,
Ecce, ancilla Domini!”
Nova, nova.

Nova, nova, Ave fit ex Eva.

The Cherry Tree Carol

The ballad relates an apocryphal story of the Virgin Mary, presumably while traveling to  Bethlehem with Joseph for the census. In the most popular version, the two stop in a cherry orchard, and Mary asks her husband to pick cherries for her, citing her child. Joseph spitefully tells Mary to let the child’s father pick her cherries.

At this point in most versions, the infant Jesus, from the womb, speaks to the tree and commands it to lower a branch down to Mary, which it does. Joseph, witnessing this miracle, immediately repents his harsh words. The more contemporary versions sometimes end here, while others often include an angel appearing to Joseph and telling him of the circumstances of Jesus’s birth. Other versions then jump ahead several years, where the next verse picks up with Jesus on his mother’s lap, telling her of his eventual death and resurrection.

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About Monsignor Mark Richard Lane

I am a Catholic Priest of the Diocese of Richmond. I am also a presenter in the Theology and Symbolism in Art from the art of the catacombs to modern art. My current research is on the duplicity of art in 19th Century America.
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