Tuesday, 20 December 2011
No room at the stable
One of the more crowded of the nativity scences I've come across, and the more you look, the more you see. Just what is that small child pointing at on the extreme left of the picture, curling round the legs of the buxom woman in blue? And then one of the sheep brought by the shepherds lies in the foreground, legs tied as a sacrifice, prefiguring the crucifixion. Joseph is being pushed into the background by the adoring crowd, off balance and almost falling over. Behind him are more men with packs on their backs and staffs in their hands. On the right the ox is held by its horns, but the bustle on earth is nothing compared with the riotous behaviour in heaven! Naked cherbus frolic, one holding on to the ankle of an angel, whilst another lifts up what looks like a bedsheet and peers blearily down. The angel dressed in rose-coloured fabric looks as if they are in the midst of a game of volleyball, whilst a more serene angel behind consults a book, more interested in words than The Word. Perhaps whjat is more disturbing is that on closer inspection the new-born baby looks, in its position and attitude, more like a still-birth - an interpretation accentuated by the way in which Mary is folding a cloth over his face, just as one covers a corpse.
I don't think that any Nativity Play or film version of the Christmas story has ever dared to follow the vibrancy and sheer chaos as painted here by Abraham Bloemaert in 1612. Maybe we should rise to the challenge and discard the sweet and serene Nativity cribs we erect in our churches and homes, and put up something more akin to this scene of holy disorder.