All over the world, this sentence from the Gospel of Luke will soon be read and heard: “And she brought forth her first-born Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him down in the manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” It is the Christmas story, the story of the birth of Jesus Christ.
Various museums in The Hague have paintings in their collections that depict important moments from that Christmas story. But some of these artworks are in storage and cannot be seen. A reason to bring them out here to illustrate a recounting of the event.
Shepherds abiding in the field
On the night Jesus was born, there were shepherds in the field near Bethlehem. They were keeping watch over their sheep, when suddenly an angel appeared. The angel told the shepherds to go to Bethlehem, where the Saviour had been born. A beautiful choir then appeared as well, singing: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men”
The shepherds in the stable
The shepherds obeyed the angel and went to Bethlehem. There they found Mary and Joseph in a stable, with the new born child lying in a manger. The shepherds stood beside the manger in admiration, then went out to tell their story to everyone.
One of The Hague’s lesser-known museums is the extraordinary Bredius Museum, at Lange Vijverberg 14. The artwork in this museum was once the private collection of one man, namely Abraham Bredius. You can admire paintings by Rembrandt, Jan Steen and Hobbema, among others. The 18th-century former mansion also houses silverware, porcelain and furniture.
The Mauritshuis is perhaps the best known museum in The Hague. The handsome17th century building stands next to the Prime Minister’s tower. Inside are paintings by Vermeer, Rembrandt, Potter and other 17th and 18th century painters.
Three wise men from the east
The town of Bethlehem was in Judea and Herod was the king of Judea. Not long after the birth of Jesus, three wise men arrived in Jerusalem, the capital of Judea. They had seen a star, the sign that a new king had been born and they were looking for that king. Herod called together his priests and teachers, who told him that holy books predicted the child would be born in Bethlehem.
Herod secretly told the three wise men to go to Bethlehem and report to him after they had seen the child. The wise men departed and were glad to see the star showing them the way to Bethlehem
They knelt down before the child and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Gallery Prince William V is also on the Hofvijver, with the address Buitenhof 33, next to the Prison Gate. It calls itself “The Hidden Gem of The Hague”. Prince William V of Orange-Nassau had the hall built in 1774 to exhibit his impressive collection of paintings to the public. The walls are crammed full so that the wealth of his collection is clearly visible. You will find more than 150 old masters including works by Steen, Rubens and Potter.
Herod's evil plans
Herod’s interest in the new born child was not a friendly one. He feared this new king would deprive him of his throne.
In the night God spoke to the three wise men: “Do not go back to Herod”. They decided to obey this warning and went back by another way.
Joseph was also warned in a dream. An angel said to him: “Take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt.” Joseph followed this advice and brought Mary and Jesus to safety in Egypt.
Herod was furious when he heard that the wise men had not kept their promise to tell him where the child was. And he took no half measures: he ordered all the children in Bethlehem aged two and under to be killed.
From Egypt, Joseph, Mary and Jesus went to Nazareth, where Jesus grew up.
Even for those, like me, who are not religious, the Christmas story can be seen as a story of a new beginning, a story of hope and overcoming difficulties. And, as we see, it has inspired many artists to create paintings.
I wish you a merry Christmas and a happy New Year. And I hope to see you again next year on a city walk or bicycle tour through our beautiful The Hague!