Sierra Leone

31 August 2020

Christmas Paintings

Sierra Leone: Christmas Paintings, 31 August 2020. Images from Delcampe.

Technical Specifications:

Issued on: 2020-08-31
Colors: Multicolor
Format: Mini Sheet
Printing: Offset lithography
Denominations: 4 x Le 14500

Technical Specifications:

Issued on: 2020-08-31
Colors: Multicolor
Format: Souvenir Sheet
Printing: Offset lithography
Denomination: Le 58,000
Although this edition is authorized by the postal administration of Sierra Leone, it was not sold in Sierra Leone, but only distributed to the novelty trade by the philatelic agency of Sierra Leone.

Christmas Morning by Carl Larssen (1894):

Carl Olof Larsson (28 May 1853 – 22 January 1919) was a Swedish painter representative of the Arts and Crafts movement. His many paintings include oils, watercolors, and frescoes. He is principally known for his watercolors of idyllic family life. He considered his finest work to be Midvinterblot (Midwinter Sacrifice), a large painting now displayed inside the Swedish National Museum of Fine Arts.

Procession of the Youngest King by Bonozzo Gozzolli (1459-1460):

Benozzo Gozzoli, Procession of the Youngest King (detail), 1459-60, Palazzo Medici-Riccardi, Firenze

Over a rich landscape probably influenced by Flemish artists (perhaps through tapestries), Gozzoli portrayed the members of the Medici family riding in the foreground of the fresco on the wall at the right of the altar. A young Lorenzo il Magnifico leads the procession on a white horse, followed by his father Piero the Gouty and the family founder, Cosimo. Then come Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta and Galeazzo Maria Sforza, respectively lord of Rimini and Milan: they did not take part in the Council, but were guests of the Medici in Florence in the time the frescoes were painted. After them is a procession of illustrious Florentines, such as the humanists Marsilio Ficino and the Pulci brothers, the members of the Art Guilds and Benozzo himself. The painter can be recognized for he is looking towards the observer and for the scroll on his red hat, reading Opus Benotii.

With a landscape background filling the rest of of the pictorial space, this fresco was designed like contemporary tapestries, a new type of courtly art destined for wealthy patrons.

The fortress, in the style of medieval castles, which appears at the highest point of the picture and is the point from which the king’s pilgrimage has set out, is similar to the Medicis’ country seat in Cafaggiolo. It is interpreted as Jerusalem, where the procession of the magi started. This was where King Herod had instructed the wise men to search for the child.

The sequence of pictures begins with the youngest king. On the horizon his retinue is moving down from the mountains. At the highest point is a small medieval fortress, possibly Jerusalem, where the Three Kings first went. However, the architecture of the complex is reminiscent of the Medici villa in Cafaggiolo, which Cosimo de’ Medici commissioned Michelozzo to build in 1451 in the style of a medieval castle.

The young king, who is looking towards the old king on the opposite wall, was thought to be a portrait of Lorenzo de’ Medici. However, it is not probable since at the time the work was created, he was just ten years old. Rather, in these features Gozzoli is repeating a portrait formula which he also uses in other places, especially the angels’ heads. Furthermore it would be unusual to portray a member of the Medici family in such a prominent position. Benozzo was aware that such portraits belonged at the edge, not in the centre of the composition. The portraits of the Medicis can, therefore, be found at the front of the young king’s retinue. At the head of the group, behind king, rides Piero de’ Medici (1416-1469), who commissioned the frescoes.

Benozzo has also immortalized himself in the densely crowded retinue in close proximity to the “familiari”. We know this from the inscription of his name on the red cap. In recent research the two youths in front of Benozzo have been identified as Lorenzo and Giuliano Medici. By having themselves depicted in the procession of the Three Kings, the Medicis were demonstrating both their political and their financial power. They had themselves depicted at the end of the procession, as part of the youngest king’s retinue, and not as part of the retinue of the oldest king, who is nearest their goal.

Members of the Medici family are portrayed in the youngest king’s retinue. For example, the man riding on a brown mule has been identified as Cosimo de’ Medici (1389-1464). Benozzo Gozzoli placed his own self-portrait among the Medicis. His red cap bears the inscription BENOTII. He is standing behind two youths, who, it is now believed, portray Lorenzo and Giuliano de’ Medici.

So magnificent a procession with so many figures, which in addition was in a family chapel and not in a public church, was ideally suited for incorporating portraits of famous contemporaries. However, the identification of the youngest king as Lorenzo de’ Medici, which can be first proven to have appeared in a travel guide in the late 19th century, is purely a figment of the imagination. Despite the seven spheres of the Medici coat of arms in the oval golden medals on his horse’s bridle, such an identification is impossible due to the age of the depicted man – at the time the work was painted, Lorenzo was not yet ten years old.

The youngest of the Magi was thought to be a likeness of Lorenzo the Magnificent. He is at the head of a cortege which includes Cosimo de’ Medici, Piero the Lame and his brother Giuliano. Lorenzo’s face is characterized by shining eyes, a strong, square jaw and fine mouth. However, it is not probable since at the time the work was created, he was just ten years old.

Most of the figures in the Procession of the Magi were painted from live models and given the likeness of Benozzo Gozzoli’s contemporaries. The painter tried to represent as many likeness as possible, often without concern for the actual space taken up by the body. Only a few figures enjoy sufficient space. The artist’s self-portrait is indicated by an inscription BENOTII on his hat.

Nativity with St. Francis and St. Lawrence by Caravaggio (1600):

Nativity with St. Francis and St. Lawrence is a painting of the nativity of Jesus from 1600 by Italian painter Caravaggio. It has been missing since 1969 when it was stolen from the Oratory of Saint Lawrence in Palermo. Investigators believe the painting changed hands among the Sicilian Mafia in the decades following the robbery and may still be hidden. A replica was commissioned in 2015 and now hangs in the altar.

The painting was completed by Italian painter Caravaggio in Rome in 1600 and later moved to Palermo. It was believed to have been painted in Sicily, one year before he died. It depicts the nativity of Jesus, with saints Francis of Assisi and Lawrence among other figures surrounding Mary and the newborn Jesus. The painting is about 2.7 metres high and two metres wide. On the night of October 17–18, 1969, two thieves stole the painting from its home in the Oratory of Saint Lawrence in Palermo. They cut the painting from its frame, and also took a carpet which authorities believe was used to roll up the painting.

The theft is considered one of the most significant art crimes in history. The United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) listed it among their “Top Ten Art Crimes” in 2005.[6] Italian police, Interpol, and the FBI have all worked towards locating the painting. Its value has been variously estimated at US$20 million and £20 million; however, black market resale values are typically significantly less than fair market prices, perhaps a tenth of its estimated value. As of 2005, Italian authorities believe the painting remains in Sicily and is hidden somewhere between Palermo and Bagheria.

Theories differ on whether the thieves were amateurs or professionals, but investigators generally agree that the Sicilian Mafia has largely been responsible for its subsequent movements. One Mafia informant recalled seeing it being used as a floor mat by boss Salvatore Riina. Another account said that Riina showed it off at meetings.

In 2005, Mafia member Francesco Marino Mannoia told investigators that he was involved in the theft. He claimed that the painting was stolen on commission, and the private buyer wept and called off the sale when he saw how damaged it was from the robbery. Mannoia has not given clues to its location. A Carabinieri art protection unit in Rome believed Mannoia was recalling a different painting and devised another theory. They believe the robbery was carried out by amateurs who learned about the painting’s value on a television program about artifacts in Italy that aired a few weeks before. Amazed at its value and knowing the altar was only guarded by an elderly janitor, they saw an opportunity to steal it. After the robbery, the Mafia learned of the theft and intercepted the painting. It was moved from boss to boss, including Rosario Riccobono, eventually reaching the hands of Gerlando Alberti. Alberti attempted a sale but could not complete it before being arrested in 1981. He supposedly buried the painting along with drugs and cash, but his nephew showed the burial location to authorities and no painting was present.

In 2009, Mafia informant Gaspare Spatuzza told authorities that when he was in prison with Mafia member Filippo Graviano in 1999, Graviano told him the painting was destroyed in the 1980s. According to Spatuzza, Graviano said the painting was given to the Pullara family in Palermo who hid it in a barn. Inside the barn, it was slowly destroyed by rats and pigs, and so was burnt. This story is doubted by some authorities.

In 2018, informant Gaetano Grado told authorities the painting was stolen by amateur criminals but then acquired by the Mafia and given to Gaetano Badalamenti, head of the Sicilian Mafia Commission. The informant claims Badalamenti sold the painting to a Swiss dealer and told him it would be cut into pieces for transportation. The dealer he identified is now deceased.

Some assert that it was sold to a collector in eastern Europe or South Africa. Another theory claims that it was destroyed in the 1980 Irpinia earthquake in southern Italy, shortly before a planned black market sale.

In 2015, television broadcasting company Sky commissioned a replica to replace an enlarged photograph that hung in the altar. The replica job was handed to Factum Arte, a company known for using sophisticated technology to create high-quality replicas. They had previously done so with the tomb of Tutankhamun. The team used slides and photographs of the painting, including black-and-white glass plate negatives of the painting from its last restoration in 1951. Other Caravaggio paintings were examined so the company could replicate his style. Sky produced a documentary about the original painting and the reproduction. The completed replica was hung in the altar on December 12, 2015.

The Census at Bethlehem by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1566):

The Census at Bethlehem (also known as The Numbering at Bethlehem) is an oil-on-panel by the Flemish Renaissance artist Pieter Bruegel the Elder, painted in 1566. It is signed and measures about 115,5 cm × 164,5 cm. It is currently held and exhibited at the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium in Brussels, which acquired it in 1902. It is one of the first paintings in western art to feature a significant snow landscape and was painted in the aftermath of the winter of 1565, which was one of the harshest winters on record.

The painting shows a Flemish village in winter at sundown. A group of people is gathered at a building on the left. A sign bearing the Habsburg double-headed eagle is visible on the building. Other people are making their way to the same building, including the figures of Joseph and the pregnant Virgin Mary on a donkey. A pig is being slaughtered. People are going about their daily business in the cold, children are shown playing with toys on the ice and having snowball fights. At the very centre of the painting is a spoked wheel, sometimes interpreted as being a reference to the wheel of fortune. To the right, a man in a small hut is shown holding a clapper, a warning to keep away from leprosy. Leprosy was endemic in that part of Europe when the painting was created. There is a begging bowl in front of the hut. As he often did, Bruegel treats a biblical story, here the census of Quirinius, as a contemporary event. And once again, reference to particular political events has been adduced – in this case, the severity of the Spanish administration in the southern Netherlands. However, Bruegel may well be making a more general criticism of bureaucratic methods.

The events depicted are described in Luke 2, 1-5:
And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered… So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child.

— Luke 2:1-5, NKJV

This is a rare subject in previous Netherlandish art. The ruined castle in the backgroundsee 2nd detail is based on the towers and gates of Amsterdam.

The Mystical Nativity by Sandro Botticelli (1500-1501):

The Mystical Nativity is a painting dated c. 1500–1501 by the Italian Renaissance master Sandro Botticelli, in the National Gallery in London. Botticelli built up the image using oil on canvas. It is his only signed work and has an unusual iconography for a painting of the Nativity.

The Greek inscription at the top translates as: ‘This picture, at the end of the year 1500, in the troubles of Italy, I, Alessandro, in the half-time after the time, painted, according to the eleventh [chapter] of Saint John, in the second woe of the Apocalypse, during the release of the devil for three and a half years; then he shall be bound in the twelfth [chapter] and we shall see [him buried] as in this picture’. Botticelli believed himself to be living during the Great Tribulation, possibly due to the upheavals in Europe at the time, and was predicting Christ’s millennium as stated in the Book of Revelation.

It has been suggested that the painting may be connected with the influence of Girolamo Savonarola, whose influence appears in a number of late paintings by Botticelli, though the contents of the image may have been specified by the person commissioning it. The painting uses the medieval convention of showing the Virgin Mary and infant Jesus larger both than other figures, and their surroundings; this was certainly done deliberately for effect, as earlier works by Botticelli use correct graphical perspective.

Botticelli died in 1510. The Mystical Nativity remained hidden for another three centuries. Rome at the end of the 18th century was very different to Renaissance Florence – except for the presence of French invaders. Many foreigners left, but not a young Englishman, William Young Ottley. He was an art lover, and wealthy with a slave plantation in the Caribbean. He bought up many paintings cheaply. At the Villa Aldobrandini he saw a small, unknown work, Botticelli’s Mystical Nativity. Botticelli was then in obscurity.

It arrived in London where Ottley’s house became in effect a private museum of Italian masterpieces. After Ottley’s death William Fuller Maitland of Stansted picked up the painting at an auction for £80. When he loaned it to the Art Treasures Exhibition, Manchester 1857, it was now on open display. The exhibition’s newspaper the Art Treasures Examiner printed a new engraving of it.

John Ruskin helped to give the painting its name; after seeing it in London he referred to Botticelli’s ‘mystic symbolism’. When Maitland died in 1876 the National Gallery in London stepped in. According to Nicholas Penny the Gallery “was concerned to buy works from the earlier Renaissance – previously it had been its top priority to buy masterpieces which there would be no controversy about at all. There was an element of avant-garde excitement about buying pictures like this in the 19th century.” When the Gallery bought the painting in 1878, it had to find £1,500, nearly 20 times what it had fetched just thirty years earlier.

NOTE:  Sierra Leone’s stamp releases are currently managed by Stamperija, a stamp issuing agency based in Vilnius, Lithuania, that controls the stamp design and production for many countries in Africa and a few other locations. Like other agencies such as the Inter-Governmental Postal Corporation (IGPC), Stamperija issues a great quantity of stamps bearing the names of their “clients” (countries and territories) many of which depict themes of little to no relevance to those locations.  Many of the stamp issues tend to be high denominations that never are used in the entities whose names are printed on the stamps.

As a result, many traditional philatelists do not care for these stamps. I believe there are collectors out there who do collect some of these items although the sheer numbers released are overwhelming to say the least.  I will include these issues on Philatelic Pursuits for the sake of completeness but will pick-and-choose from topicals that interest me first before I strive for completion.

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