Meditate with Jean Lambert-Rucki (1888-1967)

Meditate with Jean Lambert-Rucki (1888-1967)

Christmas, like a headlong rush. In the liturgical days which commemorate the birth of Christ, many events come together. A real commotion. You have to leave Nazareth to arrive in Bethlehem. You have to find shelter and let the child come. We must then welcome the astonished shepherds and the curious wise men. Above all, we must be more discreet to escape the massacre of the Innocents by taking the road, once again, towards a more hospitable land. The same one where, already, another Joseph, son of Jacob, had been chased away centuries before, before finally saving his family.

Christmas, like an exile? For the painter and visual artist Jean Lambert-Rucki, the question is existential: he too left his native Poland at the age of 23, to arrive in Paris with seventeen francs in his pocket. Although he quickly encountered the tumult of the avant-garde artists of the time – cubists, surrealists, “art deco” – the man knew how to preserve a raw solitude. A desire for the essential. That of a pure encounter, stripped of the useless. Each work like a birth. Little by little, he became a pioneer of modern sacred art which then adorned post-war churches lacking new beauty.

Here a donkey serves as landscape and shelter. Almost a nativity scene on legs, since a woman and her child rest across its body. She seems asleep, lulled by the steps of the beast of burden. The firstborn, his head resting on his mother’s arm, has open eyes, as round as worlds. There is so much to see along the way. The animal’s legs and ears are straight like trunks. Reeds. Spears. At the end of the child’s life, he will still be there, this companion in misfortune, carrying through the gates of Jerusalem the most unexpected of messiahs.

This donkey is looking at us, have you noticed it? He knows that Christmas is about all births. The most beautiful, the poorest, the most painful. And even that of death. Mary stands at the foot of a mystery which she embraces with her tenderness. She can only let it grow within her and entrust it to the world which too often forgets to welcome it. But here, escape is salvation. The salvation of Christ, a birth.

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