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  • Writer's pictureNeil Allen

Fr. Roten Blog #1: France

The following Nativity is displayed in a unique permanent setting created by Marian Library Crèche Collection volunteers. The descriptive text  was written by Father Johann Roten, S.M.

Romanesque Realism

Sisters of Bethlehem

Artistic revivalism has been with us for ever. We find it in the periodical rediscovery of sacred icons, the rehabilitation of antiquity during the Renaissance, the retrieval of medieval forms and features in pre-Raphaelite art, etc. This nativity set illustrates contemporary interest in the simple and earth-bound beauty of Romanesque art. The Sisters of Bethlehem, who crafted this set, took their inspiration from stone-hewn figures and scenes on portals and capitals of Medieval French cathedrals such as Autun and Amiens.

The sober and straight lines of the overall design lend the characters a dignified immobility. It is contrasted with their big hands and eyes that speak a different language. Although mostly folded in peaceful contemplation of the Christ child, the heavy hands suggest a longstanding and active familiarity with the concrete realities of this world. They are delightfully offset by the rounded eyes filled with wonder and kindness. The figure of Mary is a telling example of Romanesque realism. Not yet kneeling in adoration as in subsequent periods, but exhausted and reclining, she gives the child the shelter of her body, and holds his head in a gesture of maternal affection.

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