Friday, December 18, 2015

Fine Arts Friday: The Numbering at Bethlehem

Numbering at Bethlehem by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1525-1569

"And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child."
      Gospel of Luke, 2:1-5

This is one of my favorite Christmas paintings, and whenever I had a house or apartment without a window over the kitchen sink, I would hang this painting there, so I could look at it every day as I cooked and washed up. 

Click on the painting to make it larger to find Mary and Joseph. They are in the lower half of the painting, slightly right of center. Mary, "great with child," sits on a donkey that is led by Joseph. They are heading toward the building at the left, where they will pay their tax and be numbered, among the many who will do the same. 

On the building hangs a wreath, as it is the Christmas season in Flanders, which Bruegel depicts here on a typical late December day with the townspeople in "Bethlehem" going about their business and children playing. It is cold outside. The townspeople's houses range from flimsy to substantial, depending upon their lot, and some may not be so warm. 

Everyone is busy. It is a scene like any other Christmas, and there are Mary and Joseph, in their complete humility. No one notices them, but they are here among us, Bruegel says. Watch for them, in the streets and among the crowd, and also in your heart. 

No comments: