Book of Hours (Bourges?), folio 65 verso (the back-side of the 65th leaf), c. 1500
Pretty, no? I mean, look at the drapery of the clothing and the blanket. The mountains in the background of the top image. The ox and the ass, and how realistic they look. This illustration really is incredible.
The main reason I was attracted to this image, though, was the angel, standing on the pillar on the left side of the page. Notice anything strange about it?
Like its green wings?
When I first saw this image, I had never seen an angel with green wings before. I thought green wings were strange. And I thought they were especially strange in this image, because everything else is so realistic. I started asking around, seeing if anyone knew anything about green wings.
Of course, my Medievalist friends came to the rescue.
Apparently there’s a book on celestial hierarchy. Originally written in 5th-century Greece, the book was still being read – and believed – in the Middle Ages. Green wings, according to my Medievalist friends, indicate that this angel is one of the highest-ranking angels in the hierarchy.
Now, I assumed that this angel was Gabriel, because Gabriel seems to be pretty involved with whole Baby Jesus situation. However, I was told that usually the angels Chameul and Michael have the green wings, and Gabriel sticks with the white. I don’t know if this is true or not, or if the illustrator just felt like giving the angel some pimped-out wings, but I do know that these green wings could make for a really interesting research paper.
… which I’m sure-as-heck not going to write here.
Also worth noting is the portrayal of Joseph in the bottom image. Take a look at how helpful he’s trying to be, handing Mary a blanket for Baby Jesus. Mary might be ignoring him but at least he’s trying. This helpfulness is actually pretty unusual when it comes to Joseph – most Nativity scenes show him as a bystander as opposed to a father.
And while we’re on the topic of Joseph, it caught me a little off guard that Joseph looked so old. It wasn’t until I thought back to my Sunday School days when I remembered that Joseph was supposed to be a nonagenarian when he wed Mary, who wasn’t even a teenager at the time. I mean, you usually see Joseph looking old in Nativity scenes, but I guess it’s because he’s so prominent in this image that I was finally forced to realize the somewhat uncomfortable age difference between him and Mary. I don’t think that would fly today.