Journey through an Image
“Luigi, skipper, artist, born in Arezzo, Kate, archaeologist, born in England…met by chance at his exhibition, he taught her to draw, now they draw together, two hands, two minds, two souls, united on one piece of paper….”
This beautiful illustration was drawn by the 2 artists listed above. I was in Cortona, Italy this summer when my husband and I came upon an exhibit just outside the Church of San Francesco. There we met Luigi Agnelli and I purchased a copy of “Il Presepe new lugosi francescani” printed on a paper canvas. I was drawn to the work that had a nativity scene, but upon further exam, it really was a portrait of various journeys during the life of St. Francis of Assisi, in the thirteenth century.
The illustration tells a story. A story that has been told for generations and one that has transformed lives. The picture takes you far and near. As far as Bethlehem but as near to one’s heart, if you allow. It shows places from history still enjoyed today. It is a glimpse into the life of a man, St Francis, as seen through the eyes of an artist.
The story goes something like this (this information was taken from a summary sheet included with the purchase of the print). After his trip to the Holy Land in 1219-1220, St Francis of Assisi wanted to ‘bring to life’ the story of the nativity to his homeland. The first live nativity was reenacted in 1223 in a cave in the Lazio region of Italy. This tradition was spread across the world by the Franciscan order. The journey depicts the original nativity in Bethlehem in the upper left corner. Other scenes are trees that rise to heaven, the three Wise Men from the East bearing gifts for the babe in the manger and various churches that are known throughout Italy. Also drawn is the Ponte Vecchio and the Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence. St Francis had an influence on many places in Italy.
As you can tell, there is much to see in this work of art and would require a great deal of study. It’s almost like looking at a puzzle or one of those pictures where you try to locate a particular hidden object. But one of the most significant parts of this drawing is the representation of trees. Whether one thinks of the tree of life or the brotherhood of the Franciscan order, a tree is place of refuge and comfort. It provides fruit, shade and even shelter for animals, something very dear to St Francis. Our lives are often depicted through branches like our family tree. It is that symbolism that catches my focus. The nativity scene is spectacular with all the amazing stories tied to this event: a star, shepherds in the field and the Magi. But the lineage of Jesus is one that fascinates and causes me to ponder.
I am very interested in my own family tree and those unknown historical figures in my ancestry. But for obvious reasons, the one leading up to the birth of Jesus is far more fascinating. The likelihood of Jesus birth being prophesied in the Old Testament and then come into fruition might seem like a leap to some, but to me it’s quite divine.
Jesus was born in the line of David. There are two recorded references to this in the New Testament. One is in the book of Matthew and another in the book of Luke. Both authors write from a different perspective. Matthew writes of Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus and Luke writes of Mary’s lineage. Both Joseph and Mary were decedents of David. By no means am I a theologian and I’m sure many have or will try to debunk this event. For me it what I believe and where my faith is rooted, kind of like a tree. It is why we celebrate Christmas.
So many celebrate Christmas as a time for gathering of friends and family to enjoy a meal and exchange gifts. These are wonderful traditions that I thoroughly enjoy. But maybe it is worth reflecting on something deeper and more meaningful with implications that can change our lives and maybe even the world. Just like St. Francis- he followed his heart that lead him to Bethlehem. Then he went back to his homeland and his influence impacted the world around him. We too can make a difference wherever we are planted.
Whether your faith is deep rooted like a mighty oak or has shallow roots like a willow tree, I hope you will allow yourself to have some child-like faith and be drawn to the wonder of this season. Heaven came down to earth. A babe was born in a manager to give us life. It’s a beautiful story and the story is one that gives meaning to everything, whether understood or misunderstood.
Here are a few images from Cortona. This is the church of San Francesco, across from the gallery of the artists of this work. If you want more information about these artists, click on the button below. It will tell you their story and show you their art.