Today, I’m following on from Nick’s advent offering last week with another portrayal of the holy family. The one I’ve chosen is by 17th Century French artist and art theorist Charles Le Brun, and is simply titled Silence. Here, we find Mary and Joseph at home with the infant Jesus, who lies, sound asleep on his mother’s lap. To the right of Mary, her mother Anne fusses around the sleeping child just as any good grandmother would, sorting the covers to make sure that her grandson is warm enough. On the left, by Mary’s feet, sits Elizabeth with her own small son, John, who, tradition tells us, grows up to be a baptiser. He’s already a bit of a ‘wild child’ it seems, given his mother’s tight hold on a set of ‘reins’ that she has placed around him, holding him in check as he stretches out to touch the sleeping infant. The men in the picture are, we might presume, John’s father Zechariah and Mary’s husband Joseph. These four adults all look upon Jesus with the tenderness and delight of kith and kin welcoming a new arrival to the family – exactly what Nick spoke about – there is less a sense of sanctified adoration of this special infant than a natural joy in new life and new beginnings.
Meanwhile, Mary sits quietly, holding up a hand to shush the admiring voices around her, for fear that they will wake the sleeping babe. Perhaps she too wants to take a wee nap once her visitors have departed. The little domestic details of the rumpled bedcovers, the fire burning in the stove, and the cat dozing by it remind us of the humanity of this family and the emotions (joy, relief, cold, tiredness) that they would have shared with us all.