With much pleasure I have designed and drawn a Christmas card that looks like a Medieval illuminated manuscript. After buying and leafing through a wonderful book on Dutch artists painting Italy in the 17th century, I felt inspired by Pieter Monickx and Karel Dujardin’s artwork to create a border in which Josef and Maria travel on a donkey through a pastoral landscape.
For its centre, I drew Noah’s dove holding an olive branch. My wish for Christmas 2020 is hope and peace, symbolized by Noah’s dove and pregnant Maria. On the back of the postcard there are Christmas wishes in five languages as well as my name. There is enough room for a short Christmas wish.
This is an A5 card that comes with a creamy coloured envelope. It was a long time ago that I drew a Christmas card. I have done pagan Yule cards and bible based Christmas cards. It is always a pleasure to send a card that is made from start to end. Please, support local artists, small shops or Etsy sellers this year. They need you.
Holly has a strong cultural resonance. We use it as a Christmas decoration since the Victorian times. In pagan times, it was customary to bring holly boughs in to decorate the house. Holly was a powerful fertility symbol and was supposed to protect a family against ill-fortunes. Holly planted near a home was regarded as a safe guard against poisoning. It also provided protection from lightening. During Yule, we bring holly in our homes to remind us that green foliage will return when the darker days grow shorter.
Every year I send so many Yule or Christmas cards and every year less are returning seasonal wishes. On the one hand I understand; sending cards costs time, energy, and paper. On the other hand, this tradition that dates back to Victorian times, reminds us that in the middle of the long North-European winter, when winter brought hardship, we would send each other well wishes. It was to let people know that you were thinking about them, that you were keeping a person in the light, that you would pray for his/her well-being, or that you wanted to give a sign of life and hoped to receive a sign of life in return. It is a lovely tradition that has many variations. There were messengers bridging long distances with a message of hope or well being, there were powerful musical instruments being able to be heard miles away that informed villagers miles away of a message depending on which melodies were used, there were postal doves, and now there is email. A dressed up card never loses its charm and although I am too scaling back my list, I hope this tradition will survive text-messages and email.
Martinus Antonius Kuytenbrouwer (1777-1850) was a Dutch soldier and painter of animals and landscapes. His first exhibition was held in 1813 in Amsterdam followed by more successful exhibitions. Horses played a major role in his work as a painter, most likely because as an officer he dealt with horses daily. M.A. Kuytenbrouwer was a member of the Utrecht Society of Arts and Sciences and the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Amsterdam. He married Johanna Sophia Gijsberta Kolff in 1798. Their son M. A. Kuytenbrouwer Jr. (1821 -1897) became a painter too. A total of 24 works are known by Kuytenbrouwer Senior. Above is shown the undated Motherhood.
As one can expect in a painting by Kuytenbrouwer Sr., the horse, with its foal, takes centre stage. The mother horse is suckling her young. The cows seem to be the only mothers in the painting without babies. The small flock of sheep has two lambs and the shepherd family has a big, healthy looking baby contently drinking too. I see an orange little thing next to the shepherd mother that can either be a robin or a flower.
The manor house in the back is unknown to me and I wonder what the 11 trees mean. The tree most to the left looks the oldest, while the trees to the right seem to be younger and skinnier. This seems a perfect natural representation. If the trees should symbolize something, could it then be that the 11 trees represent members on one family? It wasn’t uncommon at Kuytenbrouwer’s time to have large families. Maybe the age and number of the trees also represent Motherhood: the oldest and thickest tree is the mother of all the young ones that are grouped a bit further away, closer to the light and open field.
I love paintings and art with breastfeeding mothers. When a mother sits down to breastfeed her hungry baby, a peaceful and relaxed moment is guaranteed. The father shepherd snuggles up closely to his wife and baby, and enjoys the scene.
The mother horse keeps an eye on the painter as if to say: ‘You are allowed to watch and paint, but don’t disturb us; a happy baby means a happy family’.
p.s. Readers have asked whether I’m related to M.A. Kuytenbrouwer. M.A. Kuytenbrouwer is my father’s family but of a distant branch of the Kuytenbrouwer-family tree and -of course- a few generations back. The name Kuytenbrouwer changed through the generations from Coytenbrover to Kuytenbrouwer to Kuitenbrouwer. There are now Kuytenbrouwers and Kuitenbrouwers.