Christmas cards made by a Carmelite nun during World War II and a design for an untraced altarpiece in stained glass are just two of the rarely-seen works of art to be included in this year’s Nativity Art Trail at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.
A group of watercolour designs for Christmas cards by Margaret Rope, who studied at the Birmingham School of Art and later became a Carmelite sister, are on show.
One card was made for her convent during the Second World War and shows a soldier, sailor and airman approaching the stable at Bethlehem and angels watching over a sky filled with planes and searchlights. The Latin inscription ‘Ipse est pax nostra’ (He is our peace) proclaims Jesus a source of comfort and hope, especially in times of war.
Margaret Rope’s designs will go on display as part of the Nativity Trail which will be launched by the Right Rev. David Urquhart, Bishop of Birmingham and the Most Rev. Bernard Longley, Archbishop of Birmingham, on the afternoon of 29 November.
Other works new to this year’s Trail include a design for a stained-glass reredos (altarpiece) by Smethwick artist Florence Camm (1874-1960). The drawing, made in 1923, shows Mary and the baby Jesus surrounded by child angels, who were modelled for by local children. The altarpiece has never been traced, but the design was adapted for a Christmas card by the family stained-glass firm, Thomas Camm.
An oval plaque made in France in the mid-16th century is also on show. The plaque, painted by an unknown enameller, shows the Holy Family and the star which led the Magi to the stable and may have been made as a focus for private prayer. It is the earliest enamel in Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery’s collection.
The last of the new additions to the Trail, The Adoration of the Magi (c.1590), is a drawing by the Swiss artist Daniel Lindtmayer (1552-c.1607). Probably made as a design for a piece of stained glass, it shows the three wise men visiting the stable.
The Nativity Trail also includes Pre-Raphaelite favourites such as The Annunciation by Arthur Hughes, which depicts the Angel Gabriel appearing to Mary to tell her she is to be the mother of Jesus. The Star of Bethlehem (1887-1891) by Birmingham-born Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898), shows the three wise men visiting the baby Jesus. It was commissioned for the Museum and Art Gallery by the Corporation of Birmingham and at nearly thirteen feet across is believed to be the world’s largest watercolour.
Works by Italian masters are also included in the Trail. The Adoration of the Shepherds (1520-40) by Bonifazio de’Pitati’, shows the Holy Family in an Italian landscape, whilst Orazio Gentileschi’s (1615-20), tender depiction of The Rest on the Flight into Egypt shows Joseph and Mary as weary refugees nurturing the baby Jesus.
Councillor Martin Mullaney, Cabinet Member for Leisure, Sport and Culture, said: “The popular Nativity Art Trail reminds us of what the Christmas story has meant to people throughout the centuries. It shows visitors the story of Christmas through the city’s stunning art collections which are some of the finest in Europe.
“The city’s Christmas programme brings families and friends of all ages and backgrounds together. It attracts visitors to our city and importantly enhances the quality of people’s lives.”
For further information on the Nativity Trail at the Museum and Art Gallery, call 0121 303 2834.
Jason Lewis on 0121 303 4266, firstname.lastname@example.org