I popped into my local post office to get my Christmas stamps and was offered one celebrating Kwanzaa, one featuring holiday baubles, and another picturing gingerbread houses. Where’s the Madonna with the Christ Child, I asked myself. Feeling miffed, I left without purchasing any stamps.
What Jesus Christ stands for has been removed from the institution of marriage, from the conception of children, from prayer in schools, and I don’t know what all else. Had even the U. S. Postal Service now removed Christ from Christmas?
How disappointing! But, before I began an angry crusade against the post office, I decided to do some checking. So I inquired of the agency and learned that revered scenes from the Christmas story, including vignettes of the Madonna and Child, had been issued by the U.S. Postal Service at least since 1966 when first class postage cost five cents!
Checking 2008 and the following years, I saw that the agency created a stamp from the painting called Virgin and Child with the Young John the Baptist by the Italian master Sandro Botticelli when the cost of first-class postage had climbed to 42 cents. Botticelli painted it for an orphanage in Florence in the late 1400s. It is now in the collection of the Cleveland Museum of Art in Ohio.
The Madonna and Sleeping Child by Italian Baroque painter, Giovanni Battista Salvi da Sassoferrato, was chosen for 2009. Sassoferrato spent much of his career painting Madonna and Child portraits for his patrons. This one is displayed at the Hearst Castle in San Simeon, Calif., which, along with its surrounding acreage, was donated to the state by William Randolph Hearst decades ago. The Postal Service reprinted this stamp in 2010 raising the price from 42 to 44 cents.
The Christmas stamp for 2011 and 2012 presents a detail from the Madonna of the Candelabra by Raphael, the gifted painter and master of the Italian High Renaissance, completed in 1513. You can see the full painting at The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Md. This forever stamp is good for mailing one-ounce first class mail anytime in the future regardless of price changes.
And so, in keeping with its tradition, the U.S. Postal Service did indeed issue a stamp featuring the Madonna and Child in 2013. It simply must not have been available at the time I visited my branch. This Virgin and Child stamp by Jan Gossaert features a detail of Gossaert’s 1531 oil-on-wood painting entitled Virgin and Child. He is credited with being one of the first artists to bring the innovations of the Italian Renaissance to Europe.
The person responsible for bringing the work of several of these great artists to the postage stamp is Richard Sheaff of Scottsdale, Ariz. We salute him.
Well, now I can better enjoy my Christmas knowing that Christ is still a part of it in the eyes of our venerable U.S. Postal Service. Please enjoy yours as well!