instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads

Picturing a World

Twelfth Night, or what you Will

I don’t much like 19th C caricatures, but I love the punch drinker’s salute to William Shakespeare’s bust here. As you probably know, the play Twelfth Night was written by Shakespeare in the winter of 1601–1602 (the first recorded performance was on Candlemas Night,  Read More 

Be the first to comment

Edwardian Christmas morning

An Edwardian Christmas by John S. Goodall is a gentle treat, an indulgence in nostalgia that can surely be forgiven in unsettling times. I bought a used copy a few years ago and happily turn its wordless pages every December.

For this and other images from the book, click here.

And Merry Christmas! Read More 

Be the first to comment

Christmas commerce and celebration

I was looking for a seasonal image and found this “Christmas gifts” issue of Vogue for 1918. A hundred years later, it reminds us of the joyous and tattered end of World War I. And it’s by an American woman artist! Helen Dryden. Born in Baltimore in 1882, she moved to New York in 1909 to sell artwork to magazines—just about the time that ANONYMITY’s Mattie would have known her. Perfect. Read More 

Be the first to comment

Visit from Saint Nicholas

Website alert: The American Antiquarian Society has posted a digitized version of a recent donation—a copy of the first illustrated, book-length edition of Clement Moore’s poem, A Visit from Saint Nicholas, published in 1848. The interior of the house is depicted as furnished more sparely than we have grown accustomed to seeing it, and the Santa Claus clearly predates the Norman Rockwell—Coca-Cola version! I wonder whether looking at this version might prompt a 21st C writer to a new response to the old favorite? Read More 

Be the first to comment

Twelfth Night, 2018

On this Twelfth Day of Christmas, a last image. Robin Tanner was one of the English artists who were much influenced by a 1926 show of Samuel Palmer’s work at the Victoria and Albert in London. Somehow it seems fitting to catch a final glimpse of the receding holiday from high up and far away. The vantage point might also be the start of a story that moves down into the lit street with evening pressing in from the countryside beyond. And it seems to hold secrets—always a good beginning for art. Read More 
2 Comments
Post a comment

I take up the challenge

Yesterday, I called for feminist meditations or new art based on the appearance of two midwives in the same apocryphal gospel that introduced the ox and the ass to Nativity lore. Well, after writing the post, I took up my own challenge.

Midwives at the Manger

I don’t care who the father was,
The girl could not give birth alone.
So young, both of them.
Shepherds might have known what to do;
They assist their ewes at lambing time;
But they came later.
No, the carpenter begged for a midwife,
And the innkeeper sent for me, Zebel.
I brought Salome along.
(We did have names, but forget
Anything you’ve heard about a withered hand.)
We arrived by starlight,
Angels up in the rafters,
Otherwise a normal birth: pain,
Blood, squalling baby, a bath afterward.
An easier labor than most, I admit,
As though the child would spare his mother then
Inevitable grief.
Behind the manger where I laid him down, swaddled,
A sweet-breathed ox and ass who came in when we did
Were allowed to stay. For millennia.
Only we departed, Salome and me.
All the same, we had been there, were there, are there,
Midwives to transcendence.


© 2017 by Katherine Keenum. All rights reserved

For Giotto’s splendid Nativity with angels in the rafters and the midwives, click hereRead More 
Be the first to comment

Midwives on Christmas

In the 2nd C, when the ox and the ass entered Christian nativity lore, so did a pair of midwives for the Virgin Mary. I learned about them a decade ago when I first read A Book of Carols (1966) edited by Eleanor Sayre and illustrated with artwork from Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. A note to an engraving says that until the 15th century, the midwives were frequently shown performing various tasks Read More 
Be the first to comment

Palmer’s Christmas

Samuel Palmer’s art has sparked in me a new appreciation of what etchings can do. This tender scene of a shepherd returning home in moonlight was inspired by lines from John Bampfylde’s sonnet, “On Christmas” (1778):

Old Christmas comes, to close the waned year,
And aye the shepherd's heart to make right glad;
Who, when his teeming flocks are homeward had,
To blazing hearth repairs, and nut-brown beer;
And views, well pleased, the ruddy prattlers dear
Hug the grey mongrel …


Hearth, gentle light, loved ones, and the wonder of new interests be yours this Christmas Eve. Read More 
Be the first to comment

Windsor Castle Christmas tree

For a story I am writing, I wanted to visualize a long corridor in a palace and went searching for image to aid my imagination. A blog post, Documented Interiors, helped on that score and, as a bonus, provided this watercolor of Queen Victoria’s Christmas tree. The picture is new to me and seems perfect to kick off the run up to Christmas Day. As for the host site, Spencer Alley, oh my, what a wealth of unexpected topics and seldom seen pictures. Gifts galore! Read More 
2 Comments
Post a comment

“Christmas Time Again”

After running out of Christmas cards, I went today to the Bookloft in Great Barrington, an excellent independent bookstore, where there was one box left with cards showing the the right wing of this triptych. Lovely to discover that the piece dates to 1907 (so close to my magic year of 1908 as makes no difference) and then to find the whole on line where it can be enlarged.  Read More 
Post a comment