Day 23, One Star Lit For Them – Reflection, Questions, and Art During Advent
About the Art: Leonaert Bramer (1597 – 1674), The Adoration of the Magi, c. 1630, oil on panel, 43 x 53 cm, Detroit Institute of Arts.
Leonaert Bramer was a Dutch artist who painted mostly religious scenes, and he specialized in night scenes. Bramer’s work was highly detailed and elaborate, as seen in this rather small (17 x 20 in.) painting of the Magi presenting their gifts to Christ. He was part of the artistic community of Delft, where he became friends with (and possibly mentored) Johannes Vermeer, who was perhaps Delft’s finest painter ever.
In Bramer’s Adoration of the Magi, he employs a trick with light. Christ is not only the brightest figure in the painting, he is actually the source of the light for the entire scene. Rembrandt did this as well in his Adoration of the Shepherds (see below), which may have been inspired by this painting from Bramer.
Both painters relied heavily on the technique called chiaroscuro, the contrast of light and dark to draw the viewer’s eye and add drama through emphasis and shadow. The technique assigns auras of exuberance, gloom, and mystery to the figures and structures in the scene. Masters of chiaroscuro, like Bramer and Rembrandt, would cleverly manipulate the source of light to provide commentary to the scene. To look at the Adoration of the Magi, or Rembrandt’s Adoration of the Shepherd, your first thought is not, “This is a picture of a glowing baby.” And yet, nothing else in the scene would be illuminated were it not for the light coming from the child himself.
When you look at art, pay attention to the light. How is it used? What is its source? What does is reveal? What does it conceal? Light draws our eye. It is an involuntary response. I do not know what the star the Magi followed looked like, but what we do know was that it drew them out and led them to Jesus.
The wise men “followed the star, and after countless miles of sojourn, they found the king. It was quite a feat. They would rest well.
“But that night as they drifted into a deep sleep of satisfaction, an angel, unfamiliar to them but well known to Mary, stepped into their dreams and painted for them the bloody truth of who Herod really was and what he meant to do to this baby. The angel warned them to take another route home.
“Herod’s motives were murderous. History would remember him dripping not only with the blood of his own wives and sons, but with the blood of countless others, mostly boys under the age of two.
“But not this boy king. Herod would not take his life. The Magi departed for home in secret, avoiding the area around Jerusalem.
“For most of the residents of Bethlehem, Jesus’ birth went unnoticed, but heaven and earth converged in this little pocket of the Promised Land for the most important birth in history. The angels orchestrated the unlikely meeting of the poor, the displaced, and the curious to announce the coming of the Savior of the world. To some they appeared in dreams. To others they spoke from the sky. To others still, perhaps they shone like a star, leading the Magi to the place where the child was born. Through it all, the angels of the heavenly host had their eyes fixed on this village south of Jerusalem.”
It was a radical idea to the people of Jesus’s time that the Messiah would come for nations beyond the boundaries of Israel, but this was God’s promise to Abraham from the beginning—that his descendants would be a blessing to the world. What path did God trace to make his way into your story? How far back can you trace that story?
In what ways is God working his way into the lives of others through you? Through the generations to follow? Through people in your life now?
 Ramsey, Russ. Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative. Nashville: Rabbit Room Press, 2011. pgs. 164-165.
Rembrandt, The Adoration of the Shepherds, 1646.