We’re hearing quite a lot about Mary these days, how the Angel came to visit her, how she responded to the ‘good news’, and what Joseph’s first reaction was when he heard about his fiancé’s pregnancy. Mary and Joseph and the little Jesus also appear on many pictures showing different scenes of the nativity. All pretty traditional.
A good friend of Pádraig’s and us brought back an incredibly unusual Christmas Card from the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge (UK), from the 15th Century French Book of Hours.
What is very striking almost immediately is that it is Joseph who is holding the baby Jesus while Mary… what is she doing? Yes… she is reading a book!!! It’s not quite clear, though it looks as if the book is printed – the first Gutenberg Bible had just been printed in 1455. Whether it’s printed or not… showing dad holding the baby while mam is reading a book must have caused some eyebrow-raising in the 15th century! And even more so because it’s a scene from (then) 1400+ years ago! A book! And a woman reading it! At a time when women were not educated and did not have access to the kind of money needed to buy a book! What was this painter on about?
Looking at the picture a bit longer and in more detail brings up other unusual aspects: why the big read blanket in the middle? Why dress Joseph in the blue, very expensive paint and not Mary as it was custom? Why is baby Jesus not in the centre of the picture but pushed down to a corner at the button?
It’s so refreshing and exciting to see familiar scenes from a completely different perspective! Isn’t it?
Pictures like these, when we not just see them in passing but allow their significance to challenge long established widely accepted perceptions, are so powerful!
We need more of these pictures!
Of persons who were never supposed to have fun ever again, having fun. Persons who were not supposed to eat or drink ever again doing exactly that. Persons who were supposed to spend the rest of their young lives in bed, going out enjoying walks in the park, joining friends at concerts, participating in all kinds of projects. Boarding the Dreamboat!