In the next few weeks, most of us will be receiving an influx of Christmas cards. While many of these will feature cardinals in the snow or a Victorian Santa Claus, many others will be reproductions of Renaissance paintings of the Nativity, the subject that was the origin of the feast of Christmas.
We are so familiar with many of these images that we often look at them without really looking. We may note the familiarshepherds and wise men as they surround the Holy Family in the stable, or recognise the star. But as we hold the 4-by-6 inch card printed on heavy paper, sometimes complicated by an embossed gold frame or other enhancement, we may not think about the grandeur or substance of the original painting. We may easily overlook the artist’s purpose and the meaning of the details. We enjoy the beauty of colour and form, the sweetness of the mother and child, and then we put the card on a mantelpiece to be seen by other family members -- and perhaps to remind ourselves to put a card in the mail to the sender.