A Christmas card

Another year, another Christmas card. Like last year, this is a picture to be found down the road at the Fitzwilliam Museum, a Nativity long attributed to Bastiano Mainardi, a member of Domenico Ghirlandaio’s workshop and his brother-in-law. But latterly, the Fitz has claimed to see in it the hand of the master himself. Though I do wonder!

Ghirlandaio has been in my mind recently, in part prompted by reading Paola Tinagli’s Women in Renaissance Art (which, among much else, has interesting things to say about the iconography of the great frescos in Santa Maria Novella). And I was prompted to read that book by the references that Maggie O’Farrell gives at the end of her wonderful novel The Marriage Portrait.

The portrait is of the young Lucrezia de’ Medici. Here she is:

Lucrezia is taking her seat at the long dining table, which is polished to a watery gleam and spread with dishes, inverted cups, a woven circlet of fir. Her husband is sitting down, not in his customary place at the opposite end but next to her, close enough that she could rest her head on his shoulder, should she wish; he is unfolding his napkin and straightening a knife and moving the candle towards them both when it comes to her with a peculiar clarity, as if some coloured glass has been put in front of her eyes, or perhaps removed from them, that he intends to kill her. She is sixteen years old, not quite a year into her marriage.

How can you not read on? By some way, my favourite novel of this last year. So that’s my warm recommendation of a book to treat yourself to this Christmastide!

Distracting fictions of one kind or another have been necessary more than ever, no? As Eliot says, “Humankind cannot bear very much reality.” To mention just one reality befalling the world, who would have predicted, twelve months ago, that we would be three hundred days into a simmering land war in Europe? Grim times.

But just for a few days let’s try not to dwell too much on that! May you and yours indeed have a very happy Christmas, and I earnestly hope your New Year is a peaceful one.

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