I thought I’d do one last bit of Christmas before we head into a new year. One of my favorite things to do in homeschool is teach art. For three years, I taught an art coop for elementary homeschoolers. It stretched me, taught me, awakened me to depth and richness and beauty.
There is so much to see and learn in each painting or sculpture. Kind of like poetry, which in ways that prose doesn’t usually do, prods you to look below the surface of the words and feel. What do we see? What is the artist beckoning you to notice? How did the creator feel while beauty was being created?
I ran across Joos van Cleve’s “The Annunciation” last week, for the first time in many years. Its home is the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Joos van Cleve lived from 1485 to 1541, and painted during the early Renaissance period. His work included portraits of royalty and religious or biblical subjects, like this one.
One of the best things you and your children can do with art is to just sit together and look. Sit quietly and observe. Wait to see if they mention anything. Ask them what they see and what they think and what they’re looking at. You will just be amazed at everything they can come up with! If they run out of observations, then you can begin to ask them questions: What is the story here? How would they describe the colors the artist selected? Who are the people in the painting? What do you think the different objects included mean? Why do you think the artist included them?
I sat down the other day with this painting (for a museum image, try the Met’s) and noticed the following as I viewed this depiction of Luke 1:26-38:
- Mary, dressed in blue (as she’s often clothed in) and white, kneeling at her prayers with a Renaissance-era-ish book of hours or prayer book
- Gabriel, with his hand raised in blessing (“Greetings, favored one!”)
- A dove, encircled by a gold circle (halo?)–the Holy Spirit
- A pot of lilies
- A religious painting, or diptych, on the wall, open to show a landscape
- Other windows in the actual room open onto a clear day with a few clouds in the sky
- An altar below the diptych, with a pitcher and cloth
- A chandelier and a candlestick, a bed and a chair
- A religious drawing or painting on the wall
What was on van Cleve’s heart when he created his “Annunciation?” In a hushed room, Mary kneels quietly at her devotions. The ornate canopies and curtains of the bed hang silently; the lilies are upright and motionless; the white altar cloth is smooth and still. Before Mary even begins her life of pondering heaven’s mysteries in her heart, everything is waiting.
Then suddenly! Unexpectedly! For how could Mary have anticipated a heavenly visitor? Gabriel stands beside her, his robes rippling (from the winds of heaven? his flight?) around him. Heaven invades Mary’s quiet life….joy and sorrow to transform in unimaginable ways. And behind her the Holy Spirit descends.
For her….and for us!…nothing will ever be the same again.