I have a thoroughly secular approach to Christmas — family, a tree, presents, turkey with all the trimmings, booze, the Doctor Who Christmas special — but still, the obvious choice for the last painting in my calendar is some kind of nativity scene. And for me, there was only ever going to be one choice. So here’s The Adoration of the Shepherds by El Greco:
Now THAT is what I call a painting. I feel proud to be part of a species that can make something like that. I was absolutely blown away by the El Greco exhibition at the National Gallery a few years ago; I’d seen a few of his paintings, but his work wasn’t really part of my mental furniture. But to see it all together, and especially the big religious paintings like this one: I just think he is the most extraordinary painter, amongst the very greatest.
It seems so modern, so fresh, that it’s hard to believe it was painted in 1614, with those distorted figures and dramatic colours. Although actually I think to call it ‘modern’ is to claim too much for our own time, to suggest that we have progressed so much that modern painters produce work like this all the time. No, this work would be extraordinary at any time. It’s just even more amazing that it was painted when it was, at a time which was perhaps less prepared for these kind of stylised images.
Happy Christmas everyone, however you celebrate it.