The Nativity icon, like most festal icons, does not merely depict an event that happened two thousand years ago, but rather by its form and the hierarchy of its elements, shows us the inner workings of how the Divine Logos is Him by whom all things were made. The icon also shows us how His incarnation acts as the anchor, the fulcrum, around which all manifestation holds together. Christ unites the highest – angels and star, with the lowest – animals and a cave. He brings together the far and wise – the wisemen, to the near and simple – the shepherds. All of this is an image of how the Divine Logos holds the world together.
By its reference to death, to the entry into the cave, the nativity icon links its imagery to other icons in which Christ is underground, such as the icon of Theophany and the Anastasis.
I gave this talk at St. George Antiochan Orthodox Church in Montreal a few weeks ago, just at the start of the Nativity fast, 2018. At the end of the presentation, I also dealt with many questions about iconology, some elements from other icons, as well as some of the controversies about icons and style that have appeared in the last few years.
This presentation was also an elaboration of the two nativity articles which I wrote for Orthodox Arts Journal several years ago:
The Ass and The Ox in The Nativity Icon
The Cave in The Nativity Icon.
The original video can be found on youtube.
Amazed and filled with joy at your presentation! One question: St. Joseph is sitting with his legs crossed and in one icon his hand under his chin. In German medieval art this posture is an “emblema” for a figure considering one’s mortality. ( Walter von Der Vogelweide: da sass ich auf ein Stein, und dachte bein auf bein.) Is this common to iconography?