Art in Advent 2015: The Adoration of the Christ Child
The Adoration of the Christ Child – Adoration in the Forest is a painting completed before 1459 by the Carmelite friar Filippo Lippi of the Virgin Mary and the newly born Christ Child lying on the ground, in the unusual setting of a steep, dark, wooded wilderness.
Painted over five centuries ago, Filippo Lippi’s nativity is like no other: the birth of Christ in a dark, wooded wilderness. There are no shepherds, kings, ox, ass – there is no Joseph. “Lippi removes a whole range of narrative details which would have been present in a standard Nativity – he creates a whole set of mysteries, and then preserves them.” Its beauty inspired Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Botticelli. But it also conceals a deeply personal story. It was painted for Cosimo de’ Medici, a wealthy banker who feared that his money was dragging him straight to hell!
The artist’s life was equally surprising. One of the most celebrated painters of his day, Filippo Lippi was also a Carmelite friar, but he was no stranger to the temptations of the flesh, to which he frequently yielded. Shortly before painting his Adoration, he caused uproar by seducing a twenty year-old nun. His paintings rejoice not just in divine beauty, but in that of women.
In later times, the Adoration’s history was interwoven with that of rulers and dictators. It became a bargaining chip after Napoleon’s allies seized twenty merchant ships. And in the 20th century, it was hidden by the Nazis in a potassium mine, where American troops stumbled upon it. The painting even inspired mutiny amongst US officers when the American authorities tried to appropriate it for the National Gallery of Art in Washington.
Lord Jesus, Light of the world
Overcoming the darkness of fear and doubt.
As we celebrate your birth
In the company of Mary and Joseph,
May we begin to see the world emerging from
With new hope and joy.
As you chose the poor and lowly
The outcast and marginalised
To receive the Good News,
So may we worship you with angels and shepherds
In the meekness of our hearts.
As we draw near to Bethlehem
We pray for its people
That they may know the peace of the Child born in
And may share with us and all people
The joy of this holy night.