Art Historian Nun Shares Holiday Picks


On the occasion of the annual Christian holiday of Christmas, the Telegraph asked one the most qualified person imaginable — nun and art historian Sister Wendy Beckett — to pick some exceptionally a propos artworks. And though the sister did select a number of overtly Christian artworks, including Piero della Francesca‘s incredible “Nativity” (1470-75, above), she also included a pair of late-19th century French painter’s completely secular canvases.

Of the della Francesca painting, which hangs in the U.K.’s National Gallery and is set in an exceptionally desert-like wilderness, Sister Beckett says: “This nativity is fundamentally earthy; even the angels have their feet firmly on the ground. Mary is isolated with her back to the angels and St Joseph. For all the wonder of the angels singing, there is a sad awareness of being human.”

Also on her Christmas list, however, are Paul Cézanne‘s circa 1887 rendering of his favorite mountain, the Mont Sainte-Victoire, and Pierre-August Renoir‘s full-body portrait of a Parisian girl in an elaborate blue dress, from 1874 (below). That painting, currently on view at the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff, exemplifies the innocent exuberance of youth that, for Sister Beckett, is such an integral element of the holiday season.

“This portrait is so delightful, so innocent and fresh, that I associate it with the childlike joy of Christmas,” she says. “Life is a great excitement for the young Parisian girl, as we hope Christmas is for all young people.”


— Benjamin Sutton (@bhsutton)

(Top image: Piero della Francesco, “Nativity,” 1470-75. National Gallery U.K. Via Wikipaintings. Bottom image: Pierre-August Renoir, “La Parisienne,” 1874. National Museum Wales. Via Wikimedia Commons.)