Course overview

The Christmas story has probably inspired more art than any other subject. From medieval icons of the Virgin and Child to the Renaissance paintings of the shepherds and the wise men; and from stained glass windows to Christmas cards, the story has been at the forefront of western art. This study day will examine the historicity of the gospel stories and how they have been interpreted by artists through the centuries. A wide range of art will be shown and there will be space for discussion and for learners to offer their own suggestions and experiences.

Course description

Beginning with the Angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary that she is to bear a child who will be God’s son, this extensively illustrated study day with WEA tutor David Brindley, looks in detail at each part of the Christmas story as imagined by artists. Fra Angelico’s agenda-setting annunciation fresco starts us on a journey of investigation. Why are the birth narratives of Jesus in only two of the four gospels? Why do the gospel accounts differ so widely? How do artists imagine the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem? Giotto and Reubens give us their versions of the shepherds’ at the crib. The visit of the wise men was a favourite subject of Renaissance artists - Botticelli and Mantegna depict them , and later Rembrandt give a different interpretation. The dark story of the massacre of the innocent children by Herod is shown by Breugel, and the strange and little known legends of miracles on the journey of the Holy Family to Egypt fascinate several artists. We then look at the development of images of Santa Claus, and at the importance of Christmas cards as an art form. This richly illustrated study day is the perfect preparation for the Christmas season.

What financial support is available?

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