The United States Postal System has been issuing religiously themed Christmas stamps since 1965, so this year’s edition comes as neither a shock nor much of a surprise.
Despite the declining popularity of physical cards, over a quarter of a billion Christmas stamps will be sold this year. There are likely several of them sitting in your own mailbox today.
But what’s unique this year is that the 2022 version of the Christmas stamp is shrouded in mystery.
The painting is titled “Virgin and Child,” and it dates back to the first half of the sixteenth century and Florence, Italy.
The birthplace of the Renaissance, Florence was long considered the center of all types of artistic and creative endeavors. Michelangelo, Galileo, and Leonardo da Vinci called the city home. Although artistic influence would soon shift to Rome, the atmosphere in Florence at the time was nevertheless rich. Centuries later, artistic masterpieces coming out of that region still stand the test of time.
Like “Virgin and Child.”
Only we don’t know who actually painted it. It’s simply attributed to “the Master of Scandicci Lamentation.”
What we do know, though, is that it was owned by a gentleman named Antonio Scarpa. He was a doctor and professor of surgery at the University of Pavia, near Milan. It was one of many paintings in his collection.
Antonio Scarpa likely knew the artist – or maybe not. Back in the era, it wasn’t unusual for students in art schools to begin their work, and then turn it over to professors to finish. This particular painting is believed to come from the “School of Raphael” and the artist from the village of Scandicci, a small village just four miles southwest of Florence. The “Lamentation” reference points to another painting by the individual depicting grief over a crucified Christ.
Orphaned or unattributed works may seem unusual today, especially in a thoroughly legalistic society where copyrights and royalties are closely protected and monitored. But it wasn’t that uncommon hundreds of years ago. A recent BBC story noted there were over 17,500 unattributed paintings in one particular UK art collection alone.
But when it comes to artwork, does the author or artist really matter, especially when the focal point is the Divine? Does the intrigue and mystery of it all “lend enchantment to the view”?
Here we are over 500 years since the debut of “Virgin and Child” and we’re still talking and discussing this one magnificent painting of Mary holding the baby Jesus. Hundreds of millions of copies of the image are flying across all fifty states.
Even though it should, the likelihood of the United States Postal System issuing a stamp to commemorate the reversal of Roe and the acknowledgement of pre-born life anytime soon is zero. But here we are at Christmas, and a government agency is nevertheless producing, selling, and delivering images of the most famous and most consequential and significant baby ever born.
A Christmas miracle?