Federico Barocci (1597)

An unusual angle on a familiar tale. We don’t even see Joseph’s face as he scurries to relay the news or perhaps just seek moral support. The shadowy face at the threshold gives us the impression that we’re being let in on a secret, and the animals at the front, as well the rough-hewn wall, remind us that this is for all creation. At the calm centre, mother and child are bathed in the sort of warming radiance you’d send to your friends if you could. Love’s pure light. It’s a religious scene, obvs, but you don’t have to believe in anything to be consoled and uplifted by eternal things – tenderness, humility, grace. And any creative endeavour is a hymn to the simple, infinite act of paying attention: the world will not starve for want of wonders, but only for want of wonder, according to GKC. This of all years, we’re especially conscious that to make art is to throw out a rope and offer a connection beyond ourselves, to explore and show something essential. From time to time, like Captain Flashheart, we all need “something to HANG ON TO”. This painting, this story, is a bundle of faith, hope, and love: maternal love nestling alongside artistic devotion; hope, that we are redeemed by new life or by beauty; and – especially now – holding on to the faith, embodied here in both protagonist and painter, that the future is bigger than the past.