The Maestà, or Maestà of Duccio is an altarpiece composed of many individual paintings commissioned by the city of Siena in 1308 from the artist Duccio di Buoninsegna. The front panels make up a large enthroned Madonna and Child with saints and angels, and a predella of the Childhood of Christ with prophets. The reverse has the rest of a combined cycle of the Life of the Virgin and the Life of Christ in a total of forty-three small scenes; several panels are now dispersed or lost. The base of the panel has an inscription that reads (in translation): “Holy Mother of God, be thou the cause of peace for Siena and life to Duccio because he painted thee thus.” Though it took a generation for its effect truly to be felt, Duccio’s Maestà set Italian painting on a course leading away from the hieratic representations of Byzantine art towards more direct presentations of reality. Wiki
Well its 4.30 am on a December Tuesday morning and latent musings on the most profound questions of all have flooded my little grey cells into sudden wakefulness, and the ever-lasting wrestling match between the edges of reason and faith that are my life holds me in its restless grip once more.
Three decades ago, my doctoral supervisor in a tutorial said something that was to change my life and which still prompts these thoughts so many long years later, something that shredded my shallow angry atheism.
A confirmed agnostic, he argued that his was the only rational position since it was impossible to disprove the existence, or otherwise, of a transcendent creator God outside time and space. He went further and argued that atheism was the least rational of all three positions as there is much more circumstantial evidence for the existence of God than for his non-existence (testimonial witness evidence, the fact that all human societies have some belief in a form of divinity). An argument I still find as compelling today as thirty years ago, albeit I now believe that the testimonial and other circumstantial evidence is of sufficiently high quality to compel faith, if not certainty, in the existence of such a God. Indeed, the developing understanding of DNA was enough to force Professor Anthony Flew, the Dawkins of the philosophical world for half a century, to abandon his hard-line atheism of half a century and to embrace theism.
The Mystical Nativity is a painting of circa 1500–1501 by the Italian Renaissance master Sandro Botticelli, in the National Gallery in London. Botticelli built up the image using oil on canvas. It is his only signed work, and has an unusual iconography for a Nativity.
The Greek inscription at the top translates as: “This picture, at the end of the year 1500, in the troubles of Italy, I Alessandro, in the half-time after the time, painted, according to the eleventh [chapter] of Saint John, in the second woe of the Apocalypse, during the release of the devil for three-and-a-half years; then he shall be bound in the twelfth [chapter] and we shall see [him buried] as in this picture”. Botticelli believed himself to be living during the Tribulation, possibly due to the upheavals in Europe at the time, and was predicting Christ’s Millennium as stated in Biblical text.
The Silent Night Chapel (Stille-Nacht-Kapelle) is located in the town of Oberndorf bei Salzburg in the Austrian province of Salzburg, and is a monument to the Christmas carol Silent Night and its librettist, Joseph Mohr and its composer, Franz Xaver Gruber. It stands on the site of the former St Nicholas’s Church, where on 24 December 1818 the Christmas carol was performed for the first time.
This scene shows Mary kneeling in adoration before a newly-born Christ who is laid on her cloak. Five angels sing welcoming his birth – two of them play lutes. Beside them a donkey appears to bray, while an Ox peers down solemnly at Christ.
Several oil-on-oak-panel versions of The Massacre of the Innocents were painted by 16th-century Netherlandish painters Pieter Bruegel the Elder and his son Pieter Brueghel the Younger. The work translates the Biblical account of the Massacre of the Innocents into a winter scene in the Netherlands in the prelude to the Dutch Revolt against Spanish rule, also known as the Eighty Years’ War. Wiki
The Adoration of the Shepherds, in the Nativity of Jesus in art, is a scene in which shepherds are near witnesses to the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, arriving soon after the actual birth. It is often combined in art with the Adoration of the Magi, in which case it is typically just referred to by the latter title.
Most of a working career in the drinks industry has helped me learn a little about good wines, beer and spirits, largely because of the endless patience of others who really know about these things, and because I have been singly blessed with opportunities to see things and taste drinks that only a tiny few do. I’m unusual because my career had encompassed brewing, spirits, cider and wine in high quality companies, whereas the vast majority of people within these sectors rarely see more than a couple.
So, I was asked to write an article about what I would recommend drinking over Christmas. A dangerous request because I am unrepentantly biased, and seldom drink products from outside the circles in which I have worked. I also have access to drinks that few will ever be fortunate to see, let alone taste, albeit there are some still inaccessible to me. This isn’t a boast, it’s just the way things are, particularly at the very top of the wine industry with some wines being made in the terms of a few cases per year.
But, anyway, I have chosen twelve drinks (oops- a few more, let’s say a brewer’s dozen). An entirely subjective choice, things encompassing all budgets and being fairly accessible, some more so than others. No snobbery or exclusiveness is involved. Most can be sourced from a brewery close to my heart, but not all. Neither have I recommended minority taste drinks nor things I do not drink, such as whisky, about which I claim no knowledge. I defer to more learned councils on here about such things. But all I will be drinking over the festive period, and as we all do, will be ensuring that I open the wallet just a little more than for other occasions in the year.