Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Advent: Nativity by Gustav Doré

Dear David,

Thank you for this nativity scene. It is one of my favorite illustrations from one of my favorite acquisitions of this year, i.e. The Dover production of The Doré Bible Illustrations, the 241 electrotype woodcut plates from La Sainte Bible of 1865. Once again we can thank the French for something of remarkable beauty and memorable magnitude.

And I thank you for finding this wonderful volume for me in the dusty piles of Betty’s Antique Store in Lenoir City (pronounced not as in the French tradition, but as the first half of the way George Strait might call one or the other of two roadies standing, smoking, behind the Yamaha mixer, ”Len or Billy Bob, get that Guild for me, will ya?”) Betty’s is closed now. I’m not sure what happened, no giant sale like the Brown Squirrel runs every couple of months, "Last Chance before Closing!" But she is really out of business, empty windows, empty floor, nothing but the sign to remind us of the treasures that once were available behind the chipped china display around the corner from the pile of old Saturday Evening Posts.

But back to the subject. The wonder of the Doré book for me (and for folks of my age category) is, as stated in the intro to it. “There can be little doubt that these engravings . . . have fixed the iconography of Bible in our minds.” I would say, “my age and tradition” but you are not of my religious tradition, and you recognized it’s classic import right away. The pictures in this black and white volume take me to the remembrances of the stories of the Bible, The Brazen Serpent, David and Goliath (replete with gory decapitation), Daniel in the Den of Lions, Jesus and the Woman Taken in Adultery, Jesus and the Disciples Going to Emmaus, various images of the Crucifixion, and of course this one, The Nativity. I’d say even younger folks have been impacted by the works of this masterpiece from 1865, (Can any good thing come out of the 1860’s?) because so much of the biblically-related artistic imagination of the 20th century found its roots here in the pages of the Doré Bible.

Back to this image of the advent--It is such a nice one. Men and women who are quite authentic in their response to a baby, haloing around the Christ child. Is Joseph napping? The animals are precious too. The little one reminds me of the lamb we had once, Baa-aa-b. You didn’t know us then, but Cate will doubtless remember.

Well, in all my thinking about advent this year, I have enjoyed considering it in light of this image best of all. And I have this image thanks to you. We will have to go antiquing again real soon!!!
May your holiday be wonderful. Hope to see you soon.


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