From Bruegel and Botticelli to Fra Angelico and Giorgione, I’m writing a series of devotions based on the greatest Christmas art of all time. Each devotion includes a picture, a Bible reading, a reflection and a prayer. Take your time. Look deeply. Breathe. Relax. Be with God.
6 ANNUNCIATION TO THE SHEPHERDS
Artwork: Annunciation to the Shepherds – Taddeo Gaddi, Church of Santa Croce, Florence
Reading: Luke 2:8-15
It’s the light that gets me.
Look again at this picture, at the way the figures are lit. It’s quite remarkable really.
It’s still evening. We can see that from the sliver of night sky beyond the brow of the hill.
But the hill itself and the figures on it are bleached by a piercing light that bathes the sleepy shepherds and their flock.
It’s as if the whole scene is being washed clean in light. Pure light.
How extraordinary that this effect is created by paint and a brush.
The artist Taddeo Gaddi is hardly known at all these days. In fact, most bios only discuss him with reference to his much more famous teacher, the grand master, Giotto. He’s usually referred to as “the pupil of…” or “a follower of…”
One entry describes him as, “A capable artist, although lacking his teacher’s comprehensive aesthetic vision.” Ouch.
But he knew light. In fact, he was obsessed by it, and gave his life to the study of its effects. Some say his obsession came about as a consequence of a series of solar eclipses which occurred in the 1330s.
So consumed by it was he that he created this astonishing light-infused image of the annunciation to the shepherds.
Remember the reading from Luke described the scene this way: “An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.”
It’s not the angel that terrifies them. It’s the light!
Whenever an angel appears, the first words of its mouth are, “Don’t be afraid.”
Don’t be afraid of the light.
We tell our kids not to be afraid of the dark. But the light can be much more terrifying. The light can bring shame and humiliation.
Later, Jesus would declare, “I am the light of the world! Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
Don’t be afraid of the Light. He hasn’t come to shame you, but to bring peace on earth and goodwill to all humankind.
The light of God surrounds us,
The love of God enfolds us,
The power of God protects us,
The presence of God watches over us,
Wherever we are, God is,
And where God is, all is well.
Grant, O Lord, your protection
And in protection, strength
And in strength, understanding
And in understanding, knowledge
And in knowledge, the knowledge of justice
And in the knowledge of justice, the love of it
And in the love of it, the love of all people
And in that love, the love of my Lord and all creation.