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Sunday, April 5, 2015

Easter Art

The Resurrection of Christ, 1611, Peter Paul Rubens

President Barrack Obama welcomes
the Easter Bunny to the 2014 White
House Easter Egg Roll.
Holidays have long been the inspiration for artists of every nation, every age, every era, and ever level of competence. Whether it's Christmas, Halloween, Independence Day, or Talk Like a Pirate Day (September 19th), one might think artists were having to scrounge for subject matter. Easter is one such holiday. Growing out of the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, there are many fundamentalist Christian denominations which are not too fond of the name, Easter, preferring "Resurrection Day" instead. Needless to say they'd prefer Peter Paul Rubens' Baroque masterpiece The Resurrection of Christ (above), from 1611, to images such as that posed by the President of the United States (left). As with Christmas, another religious holiday which has been overburdened with secular embellishments, organized religion around the world has done it's best to adapt, adopt, and accept what they can of that which social tradition has foisted upon it, even as many of these traditions begin to gain an historic weight of their own.

The annual blessing of Easter food in Poland.
A wooden Easter egg from the
annual White House egg roll.
The White House Easter Egg Roll is an example. Begun in the early years of the 19th century, tradition has it by Dolly Madison, wife of President James Madison, it's been a traditional fixture of the Easter celebration at one end or the other of Pennsylvania Avenue now for two-hundred years (right). Meanwhile, in Poland, Catholic priests annually bless a colorful array of food-laden Easter baskets (above). The Roman Ritual, first published in 1610, also has texts from much earlier dates, among which are the Easter Blessings of Food--lamb, bread, and new produce, as well as a blessing for eggs. Moreover, it's likely that no Easter symbol, short of the empty tomb, goes back further than that of the Easter egg. The Easter egg can be traced back as far as the early Christians of Mesopotamia, who stained eggs red in memory of the shed blood of Christ. The decorating of Easter eggs is an especially strong tradition in the area of eastern Europe where many of these Christians eventually migrated.

Easter eggs from the Czech Republic by Jan Kamenicek
The Ukraine, the Czech Republic, Poland, and Germany all have rich and colorful artistic traditions involving intricate, often ornate decoration of eggs. Keep in mind, the most ingenious, ornate, and expressive of these, the Faberge Eggs, originate in this same area of nearby Russia. Czech artist Jan Kamenicek's intricately decorated eggs (above) are typical of those from Poland and Ukraine as well. Ukraine even has an Easter egg museum (below) located in Kolomyia, (western) Ukraine.

Pysanka Egg Museum, Kolomyia, (western),Ukraine

Germany, the same country which gave us the Christmas tree, also has a long tradition of decorating trees for Easter (below), though the selection is not limited to evergreen varieties. Virtually any tree, inside or outside, large or small, will do.

Osterstrauss table decoration, Norway and Germany.
Eierbaum German Easter egg tree.
Besides coloring them, decorating them, and hanging them on trees, the same eastern European ethnics also have developed the art of perforating Easter eggs. The eggshell's contents are drained through a tiny hole, then the shells are allowed to dry before being carved with intricate, lacy decorations in a fragile art form of incredibly delicate beauty (right).

Handmade chocolate Easter bunnies--too cute to eat.
Easter Bunny Postcard, 1907
Quite apart from Easter eggs, there are several other Easter symbols having somewhat lesser traditional roots, none more tasteful tasty than that of the Easter Bunny, now often molded or (more rarely) carved (above) out of chocolate. Bunny rabbits, like eggs, are also ancient symbols of fertility, though their religious origin is a good deal fuzzier and convoluted, to the point it's not being worth mentioning. For the most part, suffice to say bunnies date back only to the advent of the printed greeting card during the Victorian Era (below), but still, that's more than a century ago (left).

Victorian Easter Bunny Egg
Easter lilies, the long established
official flower of the holiday.

Jewel of the Nile, Mini-Mad Hattery

John Frederick Lloyd Strevens'
Easter Bonnet
And finally, an Easter tradition which has, in recent years, begun to fade into the stuff of poetry and song lyrics--the Easter bonnet. I suppose that's largely because women seldom wear hats these days (except in England). Still, when we take a peek at the art of John Frederick Lloyd Strevens (left) and his many other lavish Easter bonnets from the turn of the century, we can't help but become a little nostalgic. It would seem the young lady (above, right) isn't much for nostalgia.


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