The Good Shepherd

This older post remains one of my most popular. Since today’s readings are about God as the Good Shepherd, I thought I’d share it once more.

Good Shepherd, fresco, artist unknown, Catacomb of Priscilla

Good Shepherd, fresco, artist unknown, Catacomb of Priscilla

(Click on images for larger view)

Does your idea of Jesus include the image of the Good Shepherd? Paintings and sculpture of this figure date to ancient times and the Catacombs of Rome contain about 150 such images, showing that this was certainly a popular portrayal of Jesus for early Christians.

I am the good shepherd.
The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep…
My sheep hear my voice, says the Lord;
I know them, and they follow me.
John 10:14, 27

When Jesus disembarked and saw the vast crowd,
his heart was moved with pity for them,
for they were like sheep without a shepherd;
and he began to teach them many things.
Mark 6:34

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The Sower

It seems hard to believe now, but until my first visit to an art museum, I didn’t understand why Van Gogh was considered a great artist. I had never been exposed to art…never visited a museum…never taken any art classes in school. Better late than never, in my mid-twenties my first art museum visit was to the Honolulu Academy of Art (now the Honolulu Museum of Art). Continue reading

The Baptism of the Lord


Andrea del Verrocchio is known primarily as a Renaissance sculptor and goldsmith, but he and his busy workshop in Florence also produced paintings. He trained many young artists and among them was Leonardo da Vinci, who assisted with this painting of the Baptism of Christ.  Leonardo painted the angel at the far left as well as some of the landscape. Most of the painting is done in tempera, which uses egg yolk to bind the pigment, but some areas also include touches of oil paint, a new medium that was just being introduced in Italy at this time by Dutch and Flemish painters. Continue reading

Adoration of the Magi

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea,
in the days of King Herod,
behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying,
“Where is the newborn king of the Jews?
We saw his star at its rising
and have come to do him homage.”

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Ignatius of Antioch

Martyrdom of Ignatius of Antioch, Church of San Clemente, Rome

Martyrdom of Ignatius of Antioch, Pierleone Ghezzi, 1700-1720, fresco, Basilica of San Clemente, Rome

For information on St. Ignatius of Antioch, the first Church Father to use the term ‘catholic’ and a martyr who was devoured by lions in Rome in 107 A.D., please visit this link.

Menologion of Basil II, Menologion of Basileiou - 11th century illuminated byzantine manuscript with 430 miniatures, now in Vatican library (Vaticanus graecus 1613).

Ignatius of Antioch’s Martyrdom. Menologion of Basil II – 11th century illuminated byzantine manuscript with 430 miniatures, now in Vatican library (Vaticanus graecus 1613).





Feast of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary

The traditions of the birth and life of the Virgin Mary are derived from the Apocryphal Gospel known as the Protoevangelium of James, written about AD145. In the artworks presented on this page, we see the scene of Mary’s birth by her mother Anne. In the Catholic Church, the Feast of the birth or nativity of Mary is celebrated on September 8. This feast is exactly nine months after the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8, which commemorates the teaching that Mary was conceived without the stain of original sin, though in the normal biological manner.

Birth of the Virgin, Giotto di Bondone, 1304-1306, Arena Chapel, Padua, Italy

Birth of the Virgin, Giotto di Bondone, 1304-1306, Arena Chapel, Padua, Italy

Giotto di Bondone painted a series of frescoes in the Arena Chapel at Padua, Italy that are considered among the world’s greatest masterpieces. Giotto was among the first artists to break away from the flat, static style of Byzantine and medieval painting  to create innovative works with realistic settings that are early attempts at spatial perspective. This makes him the father of Renaissance art. In this image of the birth of Mary, we can see how he has used an architectural structure to create the illusion of three dimensional space. The heavenly golden background of Byzantine works has been replaced with a blue that suggests the actual sky. The figures show an attempt at modeling and roundness, and especially in the women sitting in the foreground, we can see that there are bodies beneath the clothing. Giotto shows us at least two separate moments from the story, since we see the haloed infant Mary being handed to her mother Anne and also being cared for by the women in the foreground.


Nativity of Mary by the Master of the Life of the Virgin, circa 1460, Munich

Nativity of Mary by the Master of the Life of the Virgin, circa 1460, Munich

The Master of the Life of the Virgin, whose identity is disputed, painted a series of eight scenes from the life of Mary including this nativity setting. In it, we see a large bed bedecked with a red coverlet and set beneath an elaborate woven canopy. The newborn infant Mary is being handed to her mother Anne by the attending women. This Northern Renaissance painting shows the brilliant colors, attention to fabrics and surfaces, and delicacy of the figures that we would expect. It also seems to show the influence of the northern masters, Rogier Van der Weyden and Deiric Bouts.


Life of the Virgin: 4. The Birth of the Virgin, Albrecht Dürer, 1503 Woodcut, Munich

Life of the Virgin: 4. The Birth of the Virgin, Albrecht Dürer, 1503
Woodcut, Munich

The German Renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer created a series of 20 woodcuts depicting the Life of the Virgin, which he published in 1511 in book form with poetry by the Benedictine monk Benedictus Chelidonius. We look into the scene of Mary’s birth through an archway, seen at the top of the image. An angel above swings an incense censor, letting us know that we are viewing the sacred. But the crowded scene below seems anything but sacred, and we have to search for the infant Mary and attempt to make some sense of the disorder. St. Anne lays in the bed exhausted from her labor as the attendants offer her food and beverage. The gaggle of woman are all involved in some sort of task that attends midwifery or the relaxation afterwards, and after a search we can see Mary being bathed in the right foreground. This scene is homely and ordinary, and only the angel above lets us know that heaven is breaking into earth.


Birth of the Virgin 1661, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, Louvre, Paris

Birth of the Virgin by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, 1661, Louvre, Paris

Murillo, the last of the great painters of Spain’s Golden Age, depicts the religious scene with great tenderness. The baroque treatment in this work shows the influence of the Flemish school and Velázquez on Murillo after his trip to Madrid, a turning point in his career.


The birth of Mary is a day of hope and joy that reminds us of the nativity of Jesus. It is through this infant girl that our salvation will be born.

Hail Mary, full of grace.
The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb,
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners,
now and at the hour of our death.