Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Anton Raphael Mengs

One of my favorite nativity paintings is this one by Anton Raphael Mengs (1728 - 1779). The Adoration of the Shepherds.

Up at the top we have the usual cherubim and seraphim, one of whom appears to be looking straight at us. But the rest of the group seems caught up in the drama.

This old patriarch, shepherd by trade, looks like one of the prophets himself, come to check that what's come to pass has really come to pass.

But what's with this guy in the sou'wester? I don't remember any sailors taking liberty in Bethlehem. Clearly a portent.

The heart of the picture is this guy in the blaze orange and wolf skins, very excited. "Wow, man, he's so big!"

And then there's Joseph engaged in animated conversation with the shepherd. "Yeah, man, we been riding this donkey all day. And there's like no room. So I make a deal for this stable and then wham! There he is. It's so cool!" Very excited; new poppa.

There's Mary. Redhead. It figures. And the child, wide awake naturally, little smirk on his face. Think this is cool? Just wait.

But this guy over on the left. He always got to me. Looking straight at us. Gesturing at the dark. Something about him doesn't quite fit. What's his point?

"See that blank spot?" he says, "See that empty space?"

Yeah. So, what?

Go to Wikipedia and look up Anton Raphael Mengs. There's his self-portrait. Go back and look at the Adoration.

There he is.

The artist is in his own picture.

"See that nothing?" he says, "I filled it."

Merry Christmas.