Object of the Month: December 2020
The Adoration of the Shepherds
Oil on canvas, 1625-30, signed with intials: P. DG.
Pieter Fransz. de Grebber
Dutch, c. 1600–1652/53
Pieter Fransz. de Grebber was born in Haarlem around 1600 to an artistic family. His father, his sister Maria, and his brothers Albert and Maurits were all gifted artists. What better place for de Grebber to be born at the beginning of the seventeenth century than Haarlem, the leading center of Dutch painting at that time.
His father Frans Pietersz. de Grebber, a painter and art dealer, taught Pieter initially and later apprenticed him to Hendrick Goltzius. Pieter primarily dedicated his artistic talent to history paintings of Biblical themes. He grew up and remained a devout Catholic often creating paintings for clandestine Catholic churches in Protestant Holland. De Grebber joined with Salomon de Bray in promoting the Baroque classicist school in Haarlem. He eventually joined the Guild of St. Luke in Haarlem and was later elected dean of the Guild. He also contributed to the music and literature of Haarlem as an amateur composer and poet. His artistic style, while uniquely his own, shows the influences of leading Dutch artists Peter Paul Rubens and Rembrandt and even Italian artist Caravaggio, whose style the artists in neighboring Utrecht emulated.
At first glance, this charming scene appears to be a family gathering around its newest member. A rising middle class in northern Europe desired art that related to them and their lives and sought portraits, still life, and domestic and rural scenes. De Grebber’s Adoration of the Shepherds beautifully marries a realistic, contemporary scene with the historical visit of the shepherds to the Christ Child. None of the figures appear in garments typical of first-century Palestine but of those of the seventeenth century furthering the ability of the contemporary viewers to relate to and connect with the subject of the painting. De Grebber intimately lights the scene with candlelight as the shepherds draw near to see the baby. Mary cradles Baby Jesus in her arms, and a fascinated young child gently touches the swaddled Christ under the adults’ careful supervision.
One cannot help but notice the theme of light in this story. When the angels appeared to tell the shepherds the good news, “the glory of the Lord shone round about them.” Such glory would surely have startled and even blinded them in the darkness of night. Upon hearing the angels’ tidings and praise to God, the shepherds immediately rushed to Bethlehem where they found Christ in a humble stable.
The Son of God came into a dark world to provide light and hope. After seeing the Light of the World with their own eyes, the shepherds spread the word of His birth and became messengers bearing the news of this Light come to illuminate the darkness in the hearts of men. De Grebber’s painting demonstrates that Christ offers His light to all people, and no matter how dark life may seem, He is there to illuminate and guide those who come to Him.
Rebekah Cobb, Registrar
Published in 2020