Richard Warren

20thc British art and poetry (mainly), plus bits of my own – "Clearly I tap to you clearly along the plumbing of the world" (W S Graham)

Tag Archives: Christmas

Baby Jesus in the green and pleasant

I seem to have gone a bit AWOL lately on this blog. Again … But things will pick up in the new year.

Meanwhile, here’s Samuel Palmer’s tiny, bejewelled Landscape with the Repose of the Holy Family, or The Rest on the Flight into Egypt, as it’s also known, tucked away in a corner of the Ashmolean. The palm tree(?) at the right seems as much of a late intrusion into the Kentish vales as is the holy family, who are plonked, maybe a bit awkwardly, at the foot of one of Palmer’s trademark diagonals. But are they really refugees on their way to Egypt? No donkey, and it all seems oddly relaxed, settled and timeless … Less of a flight than an arrival.

It’s almost as if Palmer had a little landscape going spare, smoke from the cottage chimney and all, into which they have been visualised and inserted, not as an apparition but as an inculturation. It’s their cottage. In Palmer’s world, the holy lamb of God really is seen on England’s mountains green; waking from a nap, the divine countenance looks up at his mum and dad, then out across our clouded hills and pleasant pastures.

Happy Christmas! In the full sense of those two words.


Baby Jesus meets the Sphinx

Happy Christmas! And for a Christmas card, here is Glyn Warren Philpot’s startling Repose on the Flight into Egypt (1922), currently on the wall at Tate Britain. (Click to enlarge.) I don’t know much about Philpot. Google him and you get a bunch of deftly done portraits, many of young men. All a bit ‘nineties at first, but in his later years (he died in 1937) he went rather more Deco, though not always with entirely happy results.

Here the satyrs and fauns of a departing world recognise in the crumpled figures of the exhausted family the beginnings of the new age, and in the sleeping baby the power that will revolutionise the universe. There is a beautiful and generous sympathy in this. In the Christ child the Sphinx sees the definitive answer to her riddle – a human. God as a human. The toppled colossus from whose shoulder the Sphinx alights, and against which Joseph rests his back, is an Ozymandias among half buried lintels and columns, ruins of the old religions.

The only comparable image I can think of is Max Klinger’s Christ on Olympus, where the resurrected saviour is greeted by the entire astonished pagan pantheon. It’s a wonderful conceit, though Klinger’s grandiosity lets him down a bit in places.

The commentary on Repose on the Tate site maybe dwells too much on the phallic cactus at lower left, but does so in the context of Philpot’s attempt to reconcile his Christianity (he was a Roman convert) with his homosexuality. What an indictment on the churches that this is still an issue for many, ninety years on …

The little Lord Jesus asleep on the cross

William Blake, 'The Christ Child Asleep on the Cross'

William Blake, ‘The Christ Child Asleep on the Cross’

An image to ponder. Perhaps only Blake could get away with “crucifying” Baby Jesus; the astral-plane idealism serves to moderate the shock. (Millais’s realism in Christ in the House of his Parents allows only for some dainty stigmata as a comparable foreshadowing.)

I look at my new grandson and try to foresee the whole life, pain and all, in his baby’s face.

Have a good Christmas!

Great Little One


No apologies for reposting the wonderful Mother and Child, 1860, by the mad, bad Richard Dadd. (Nor for showing a golden haired Madonna and Christ child. It’s good to inculturate holy images; the only problem is when we try to impose ours as a universal.) I particularly like the red socks and sandals.

Welcome, all wonders in one sight,
Eternity shut in a span,
Summer in winter, day in night,
Heaven in earth and God in man,
Great little one whose all-embracing birth
Brings earth to heaven, stoops heaven to earth.

Happy Christmas!

Today there has been born to you a deliverer

flenite relief

He is born! Emmanuel!

Jacob Epstein, drawing (birth), in 'Blast' 1, 1914