Christmas: The Christ Child and the Holy Family in Dutch Art with Alette Fleischer

Christmas: The Christ Child and the Holy Family in Dutch Art with Alette Fleischer


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Medieval and early Renaissance art were notably made for a Christian public in order to kindle the religious flame and inform the pious about the lives of Jesus, Mary, apostles, and saints. With the Festive Season approaching, this seminar traces the development in the depiction of the Christ Child and the Holy Family, from puppet-like figures to lifelike persons in Netherlandish art.

Ever since the fifth century AD, Christians have celebrated the birth of Christ in some form or shape. The written word of the gospels of Saint Matthew and, more specifically, Saint Luke formed the inspiration for artists to render the Lord’s word into an image: an image that every Christian would recognize immediately. One of the questions asked by painters and sculptors is: how to depict Jesus, son of God, as a baby? Certainly not as an earthy baby, but as a miniature adult sage sitting on his, solemn-looking, Mother’s lap.

Over later centuries, the Christ Child became more baby-like, the Virgin evolved into a doting mother, the role of Joseph remained troublesome: from a young man to very elderly. In order to strengthen Mary’s position as Mother of God, the Church created a family history around her, by giving her parents and a family tree going back to King David.

This conversation follows the Virgin and Jesus from the moment of conception up to the adoration of the magi. Which stories can we trace back to the New Testament? What has been envisioned and sanctioned by the Church? What was the influence of Church-patrons when artists were commissioned to depict the Holy Family? From a stern mini-adult and mother, artists molded the family into lifelike people, which made the religious connection between them and believers more human and tangible.

Led by an expert on Dutch art and cultural history, Alette Fleischer, this interactive seminar will discuss the development of the Christ Child and Mary from untouchable and holy to human and relatable. Designed to inform curiosity as well as future travels, participants will come away with an increased understanding of the role of art in the development of Christian devotion.

Amsterdam-born Alette Fleischer has a degree in Art History and a PhD in 17th Dutch History, focusing on gardens, science, and technology. She has curated several exhibitions, publishes articles, presents lectures, and a proud Context Expert. For Context Travel, Alette has led the Rijksmuseum tours many times. Motto: staying curious is key for being a good historian.

This conversation is suitable for all ages

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.

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