It's the season to receive an influx of Chrismas cards. Many of those with religous art images will be reproductions of Renaissance paintings. Paintings from this time period were produced for churches, for the home, or for people to travel with and show others to inspire or help others contemplate a scene in hopes that they would draw closer to the meaning of the life of Christ. The symbolism is extensive in these paintings. A wonderful article is found here if you'd like to learn more about decoding specific symbols such as why Joseph is often portrayed as an old man, why we don't see more paintings that include a cave, and what the order of the wisemen and how they are standing might mean. I love the idea of the Renaissance notion that the art can be a teaching tool or open the door for conversation with a friend. This isn't so foreign an idea for us today. We sometimes just need reminders that there is a vast amount of people that respond to the visual. Enjoy your Christmas cards and consider setting them in obviously places for others to see or saving the artwork to use at a later "teachable moment".