Before we go about our day — for some this may include shopping or family visits and for others a return to work — let us give thanks to Almighty God that the prophecy described in Isaiah 9 has been fulfilled.

Isaiah 9:6-7

6For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.

7Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.

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Today is also Boxing Day, still celebrated as a public holiday in UK and parts of the British Commonwealth.

To find out more about this day and to glimpse another painting of the Nativity, see my post dated December 26, 2009.

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A word about the artwork

The painting above is called Concert of Angels and Nativity, which Matthias Grünewald (Mathis Gothardt) created around 1515.

Wikipedia states:

The details of his life are unusually unclear for a painter of his significance at this date, despite the fact that his commissions show that he had reasonable recognition in his own lifetime. His real name remains uncertain, but was definitely not Grünewald; this was a mistake by the seventeenth-century writer, Joachim von Sandrart, who confused him with another artist. He is documented as “Master Mathis” or “Mathis the Painter” (Mathis der Maler), and as using as surname both Gothart and Neithardt — this last may have been his surname, or more likely that of his wife. He was probably born in Würzburg in the 1470s. It is possible he was a pupil of Hans Holbein the Elder. From about 1500, he seems to have lived at Seligenstadt, when not working elsewhere.

His first dated painting is probably in Munich, dated 1503 on a much later note which apparently records an older inscription. From about 1510 to 1525 he served in the Rhineland as court painter, architect—or at least supervisor of building works—and hydraulic engineer to two successive Prince-Archbishops of Mainz, Uriel von Gemmingen and Albert of Brandenburg (whose face he used for a St Erasmus in Munich). He left this post possibly because of sympathies either with the German Peasants’ War, in which Seligenstadt was particularly caught up, or Lutheranism (he had some Lutheran pamphlets and papers at his death). Grünewald died in Halle, probably in 1528, or perhaps 1531.

The Concert of Angels and Nativity forms part of the Isenheim Altarpiece, displayed in the Unterlinden Museum in Colmar (Alsace), France — a lovely part of the world, as I spent a week there travelling whilst at university.  The altarpiece was painted for the Monastery of St Anthony in Isenheim. The monks there took care of people with skin diseases, some of which are depicted in some of the religious scenes.

Grünewald’s work was confused with Albrecht Dürer’s:

The Protestant theologian Philipp Melanchthon is one of the few contemporary writers to refer to Grünewald, who is rather puzzlingly described as “moderate” in style, when compared with Dürer and Cranach; what paintings this judgement is based on is uncertain. By the end of the century, when the Holy Roman Emperor, Rudolph II embarked on his quest to secure as many Dürer paintings as possible, the Isenheim Altarpiece was already generally believed to be a Dürer

He is one of a small number of artists to be commemorated by the Church with a feast day:

Grünewald is honored together with Albrecht Dürer and Lucas Cranach the Elder with a feast day on the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church (USA) on August 5.

He is commemorated as an artist and saint by the Lutheran Church on April 6, along with Dürer and Cranach.

With regard to this particular painting, Crystal at Perspective was able to find information on it at The Web Gallery of Art. I couldn’t find the same information, so am grateful that she reproduced their explanation:

The musician angels are crowded into the Gothic chapel which fills the left half of the painting. In fact only three of them have instruments in their hands, and only one of them stands out, a blond-haired angel dressed in pale violet robe kneeling and playing the viola da gamba. His exalted expression and his beautiful instrument, however, fill the entire picture with music. The peculiar position of his hand, the way he holds the bow at the wrong end, is certainly not in accordance with contemporary practice; it is merely a compositional solution employed by the master. Behind him we can see one of his mates playing the viola da braccio, and on the left, behind the column, another bird-like, feather-covered angel who also plays the viola da gamba. Grünewald no longer makes the distinction between the nine orders of angels, but refers to their former hierarchy by depicting them as different.

A long-haired female figure, wearing a crown and surrounded by a halo, appears in the doorway of the chapel. She is perhaps a female saint or, according to more recent interpretations, Mary herself before giving birth. The crystal jug on the steps symbolizes her, and the tub and towel refer to the bath to be given the newborn.

Mary, lovingly embracing her child, occupies the right half of the painting. She is flooded with heavenly light originating from God the Father, in which angels flutter around. In the rear on the right we can see the two angels bearing the news to the shepherds. The garden in which Mary sits is a walled-in “hortus conclusus” (enclosed garden) with closed gates. The plants – the rose and the Tree of the Knowledge, the fig tree – also symbolizes Mary.

This altarpiece inspired Paul Hindemith, one of the most significant German composers of the 20th century, to create his opera and symphony entitled “Mathis the Painter”.

Enjoy the remainder of the 12 days of Christmas and give glory to God for sending His Son to be our Lord and Saviour!

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