Christmas Blessings
Images Modified For Christmas E-cards
Created & Edited by K. R. Overholt Critchfield © 2004, 2009-2022
~~ Updated & Published © January 30, 2023 ~~


Welcome to a webpage devoted to Christmas Blessings! For many years, I created birthday e-cards to send to members of my family and friends. Then one winter, I began to search for a picture for an e-card that could express the Christmas story, yet remember those who celebrate other holy days. Back then, I barely knew how to manipulate jpgs, but I got better over time, first using a modest computer program called PhotoStudio, and then using an Adobe Photoshop program, and currently using Adobe Photoshop Elements 2019. After a tentative start, my e-cards began to rely on artwork that appeared to have no copyright problems, often works from centuries past. For Christmas, the pictures needed to feature The Nativity or the Madonna and Child, and the Internet provided many different expressions of both. It is good to keep Christmas in our hearts all year long, so I hope this webpage will be enjoyed throughout the year, beginning with my most recent e-card, then working back to the first one attempted.



The Nativity, by Federico Barocci (circa 1526-1612)
Christmas Blessings 2022
; E-card Created & Edited by K. R. Overholt Critchfield © 2022


Karen's Note

Christmas Blessings 2022 is represented by this 1597 expression of The Nativity that sets the manger inside a barn-like structure with a door. Mary's clothing -- the style and colors depicted -- look more contemporary to that era than Biblical, but still there is a manger, "an ox and ass" nearby, and "swaddling clothes" on the baby. Also, a black, wide-brimmed hat is seen leaning up against a straw basket, both looking out of place, but I kept them in the picture. The e-card shows a large portion of the original painting, but since the original is taller than it is wide, the scene needed to be slightly rearranged as to the positioning of Mary, the baby Jesus, and the animals. The adjustments worked really well, without diminishing the artist's original intent.

This scene was created by an Italian Renaissance painter with several names. His original name was Federico Fiori, but he was nicknamed Il Baroccio, then became known as Federico Barocci, or Barozzi. He was born in Urbino, Duchy of Urbino, a son of Ambrogio Barocci, a sculptor of some local eminence. By 1548, he was in Rome, where he worked in the pre-eminent studio of the day. Barocci twice lived and worked in Rome, but returned to his native city for health reasons. After four years to regain his health, he remained productive for nearly forty years, working on major altarpiece commissions "from afar." His paintings were considered lively and brilliant, and he continued to innovate. His pastel studies are the earliest examples of that technique to survive. He pioneered oil sketches, and developed a complex process to complete altarpieces that led to them being finished with speed and success in execution. Barocci's compositions developed an emotional, spiritual style, and along with bold brushwork, his work influenced Peter Paul Rubens and a host of other artists.



Birth of Christ, by Ernst Deger (1809-1885)
Christmas Blessings 2021
; E-card Created & Edited by K. R. Overholt Critchfield © 2021


Karen's Note

This Christmas Blessings e-card was a real challenge, in that I was working with a photograph of a fresco, specifically, a fresco in the Church of St. Apollinaris, called Birth of Christ. My e-card kept the manger scene, but left out the band of angels perched on the roof. The challenge came from a need to recreate faces and clothing and the rooftop -- nearly every detail in the whole tableau. I kept working until all the faces and their ethnicities were clarified, because the artist seemed to have intended this. A lot of time was spent on Mary and the Baby, on Joseph and the golden background. Once again, I used a photo of linen to create the border, changing the color until it looked right.

Ernst Deger was a 19th century German religious artist. He was born in Bockenem, Hanover (4-15-1809), and died in Düsseldorf (1-27-1885). In 1828, he went to the Berlin Academy of Fine Arts, and later went to Italy (1837) to study the frescoes by the old masters in Florence and Rome. After four years of study, Deger was entrusted with the most important frescoes in the Church of St. Apollinaris, Remagen. After eight years of work, he finished a series of paintings that represented the events in the life of Christ, afterwards called the zenith of the German school of religious painting. His style was vigorous, direct and simple, careful and precise. His drawings and characterizations were considered masterful, and his colors were rich and harmonious.



Nativity, by Carlo Maratta (1625-1713)
Christmas Blessings 2020
; E-card Created & Edited by K. R. Overholt Critchfield © 2020


Karen's Note

This is my all-time favorite personal expression of The Nativity, showing the two most important details -- Mary and the newborn baby Jesus -- with an added night sky full of stars behind them. The original painting depicts them bathed in light, but surrounded by cherubic angels. My work relied on the light, but replaced the cherubs with stars. If I could have made the stars twinkle and slowly move closer to frame the Mother and Child, it would have shown what was in my imagination at that time. The resulting composition sort of suggests that the starry frame is happening. For this e-card, simplicity counted, so my work concentrated on the details and the color of a rectangle of linen. The font color came from the baby's skintone.

Carlo Maratta or Maratti (1625-1713) was a highly successful Italian painter, who was born in one of the Papal States, and was professionally active mostly in Rome. His paintings were "classicizing," in a Late Baroque Classical manner. From 1660 onward, he developed a private client base of wealthy patrons of Europe, then established the most prominent art studio of his time in Rome, and eventually was considered Rome's leading artist. In his prime, he was commissioned to do paintings for many churches throughout Italy, and for Vatican leaders, like Pope Alexander VII and Pope Clement X. A well-known portrait painter, he painted a portrait of Pope Clement IX, and produced numerous portraits of English visitors to Rome, during their Grand Tours. In 1704, Maratta was knighted by Pope Clement XI. In his later years, when he could no longer paint, he continued to run his studio in Rome, until his death in 1713.



Madonna in the Clouds, by Bartolome Esteban Murillo (1617-1682)
Christmas Blessings 2019
; E-card Created & Edited by K. R. Overholt Critchfield © 2019


Karen's Note

This expression of the Madonna and Child is probably my most extravagant e-card, but the painting, itself, demanded it. The painter depicted Mary seated on a billowing cloud against a golden sky, balancing Jesus on her lap, calmly showing her pride and reverence at the same time. I left out the cloud in order to focus on the mother and child. This painting is a kind of icon, a Spanish representation of humility and heavenly glory, both. It needed to be surrounded by a gold frame embellished with flowers, the kind of flowers that could be readily found anywhere in the countryside -- another juxtaposition of opposites -- with common wildflowers pressed into the gold. It looked right to me. I spent a lot of time creating the oval presentation, burnishing the golden sky background, and creating the flowered frame. There was some slight editing of the child and the drapery.

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617-1682) was a Spanish Baroque painter, best known for his religious works, but also for his lively, realistic portraits of the everyday lives of women and children, even beggars. He had many students and followers who studied and imitated his paintings throughout Spain and its empire, and was the first Spanish painter to achieve widespread fame in Europe.



Adoration of the Shepherds, by Gerard van Honthorst (1592-1656)
Christmas Blessings 2018
; E-card Created & Edited by K. R. Overholt Critchfield © 2018


Karen's Note

When I found this painting, it seemed to be full of happiness, and that won me over. There is another version of this work by the same artist that bears the same title and the same date, minus the added word circa, but this one pleased me more. The colors are more striking, and the expression of Mary is sweet and proud and lovely. She is a good likeness of the young girl described to us in the story of The Nativity. The light that emanates from the infant could be a holy light from the child, himself, or perhaps it comes from the Christmas Star shining down from the night sky. Either way, it is a scene to remember.

My editing work was mostly used for bringing figures out of the dark a little more, and rearranging a few things about the infant. Often artists in the past did not seem to understand how to paint babies at any age -- newborn or older. This painting had truly wonderful depictions of everyone and everything, except the baby. I tried to solve that problem a little. The framing came from a photo of a carpet found online. In retrospect, perhaps the border should have been the same wider width all around.

Gerard van Honthorst (or Gerrit van Honthorst) (1592-1656) was a Dutch Golden Age painter, known for his skill at chiaroscuro and the artificial illumination of scenes, sometimes lit by a single candle. He was born a son of a decorative painter in Utrecht, Dutch Republic (11-4-1592) and died there (4-27-1656), but by 1616, he was in Italy, among a group of young artists from Utrecht, who came to study art. In Rome, he secured important commissions, and then returned to Utrecht in 1620, and built a considerable reputation there and abroad.



The Sacred Family, by Pompeo Batoni (1708-1787)
Christmas Blessings 2017
; E-card Created & Edited by K. R. Overholt Critchfield © 2017


Karen's Note

The picture above is a portion of 16th century Italian painter Pompeo Batoni's The Sacred Family, dated as circa 1763. The original includes Joseph in the upper left corner, looking on as Mary cuddles a fully rendered older-looking baby Jesus. When you see a full length version of this painting, it is very nice, but somebody clipped a tight shot of Mary and Baby Jesus, and that is the picture I saw first. After finding a picture of the full length painting, it seemed to me that the tight shot told the whole story of the love, trust and interdependency of a mother and child. That is where my heart was, so it became my Christmas story for 2017.

My work with the photograph was in modifying colors and textures. Special attention was given to the skin tone of the mother and child, adding a healthy glow. Once the picture looked right, I tried several different kinds of backgrounds and frames, but they usually diminished the beautiful picture. In the end, I created a frame from the border of a carpet, from a picture found online, and it worked just fine. Then I took the red color from the upper lip of the child to finish the full effect.

Pompeo Girolamo Batoni (1708-1787) was a celebrated Italian painter, producing many portraits, along with numerous allegorical and mythological pictures. His style was inspired by elements of classical antiquity, and is considered a precursor of Neoclassicism. Known as the best Italian painter of his time, he worked with paint and transparent watercolors, also working as a draughtsman. Because of the high demand of foreign visitors seeking portraits, he won fame via the art-loving British nobility, often featuring them with famous Italian landscapes in the backgrounds. His portraiture also extended to the kings and queens of Poland, Portugal and Prussia, the Holy Roman Emperors, and three Popes, among others. He also was approached by many churches in Italy for altarpieces.



The Light of the World, by François Boucher (1703-1770)
Christmas Blessings 2016
; E-card Created & Edited by K. R. Overholt Critchfield © 2016


Karen's Note

Above is my version of The Light of the World (1749 or 1750), by French painter François Boucher (1703-1770). In French, it is called La lumière du Monde. As shown, I found two different dates for Boucher's original creation. It is a lovely expression of the First Noel. The modifications were in accenting the colors, lighting and the background. Also, I brought the circle of people out of the shadows and brightened up the cow. The frame was inspired by the border of a carpet, taken from a photograph found on the Internet. I managed to match the colors and make the frame look like a wood carving. It seemed to fit.

This picture was chosen for my 2016 e-card precisely because of the familial gathering, which reminded me of several members of my immediate family who recently passed away, two of them died in 2016. For me, the figures in the background represented my mother Rose, who died in April 2010, my adoptive father Lee, who died in February 2016, and my brother Duane, who died in October 2016. Working on this photograph was a blessing to me.



Innocence, by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905)
Christmas Blessings 2015
; E-card Created & Edited by K. R. Overholt Critchfield © 2015


Karen's Note

In 2015, my inspiration came from Innocence (1892), a painting by a prolific French painter from La Rochelle, France, William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905). This was the second picture of a Bouguereau painting that I used from his vast collection (see Christmas Blessings 2013 below). In his lifetime, he produced 822 known finished paintings, and many of them can be found on the Internet. The photo above is the top portion of a soft iconic painting that features a Madonna and Child, plus a baby lamb. Both the baby and the lamb are beautiful. Depicting babies in paintings appears to be a difficult task for most artists, but here, Bouguereau has created something quite lovely.

As an icon, this picture is wholly an expression of the love and protection of a mother for her precious child, but it also includes a melancholy foreshadowing of the future appellation for Jesus, The Lamb of God. It seemed to me that the figures should look more human, so my goal was to reduce some of the otherworldliness of the original, and increase the perception of reality. My work shows up in the skin tones, the colors of the clothing and the background, along with a few extra details to the left and right. It took a long time to decide on a surrounding frame, but a photo of a linen panel with pastel stripes gave the best look.



The Madonna of the Rose, by Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio (1467-1516)
Christmas Blessings 2014
; E-card Created & Edited by K. R. Overholt Critchfield © 2014


Karen's Note

For this e-card, the center of attention is The Madonna of the Rose, by the Italian painter, Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio (1467-1516). Another source gives a different title, Virgin And Child With A Flower Vase, but no date was given. Also, his surname has another spelling -- Beltraffio. When I decided to work on this picture, I did not know that Boltraffio was one of the "strongest artistic personalities" to emerge from the studio of Leonardo da Vinci, who happens to be one of my all-time favorite artistic geniuses. Recent research gave me that bit of news.

For me, this picture came alive while manipulating the lights and darks, the skin tones, and the flowers. Then a whole lot of time was spent creating the frame from scratch, using a photo of a green patterned fabric. Not yet mentioned is the additional task of finding the proper font for an e-card. Every picture needs a font that fits the visual story, so I try all kinds of fonts, with and without shadows, before picking the one that looks the best. Because of the pattern in the green frame, it was hard to find a font that both suited the overall experience and stood out as a message.

Back in 2014, when my sister saw my finished product, she commented, "Of course you would choose a picture that looks like you and Matthew," which surprised me, but a second glance proved she was right. The faces on this High Renaissance painting looked a bit like me and my son, Matthew, when I was younger and he was a baby. That is, except for the red hair. Certainly, the artist's depiction of the mother holding onto her busy child reminded me how I had to keep an eye on my own son, who was always on the move, especially when he learned to walk.



Song of the Angels or The Virgin of the Angels, by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905)
Christmas Blessings 2013
; E-card Created & Edited by K. R. Overholt Critchfield © 2013


Karen's Note

Regretably, this e-card was sent out without identifiying the original painting or the painter, and that was probably because I could not locate any data back then. If my memory serves, I found the full-length picture online somewhere, and it did not include any details. Maybe a year later, while looking for another Christmas subject, I discovered the name of the artist, along with pictures of a whole lot of his other works. The 19th century French painter, William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905), was the creator of the original work, Song of the Angels (1881), or The Virgin of the Angels (1881).

In the original, Bouguereau presented the angels as very real three-dimensional figures, which must have been astonishing to those who saw it for the first time. Basically, I believe he was saying, "Angels are real," and I appreciate that viewpoint. My modification of the photograph made the angels look ephemeral, because that is my own philosophical point of view. I believe in angels, but believe they are . . . well, other. In my imagination, angels exist both inside and outside our world of three dimensions, simultaneously. This was my first time using the special effects that are offered in the Adobe Photoshop program. It took quite a lot of experimentation to produce the effect that appealed to me. I also worked on the colors, the highlights and the shadows of the dozing mother and sleeping child, and brought out the colors in the background.



Madonna and Child, by Marianne Preindlsberger Stokes (1855–1927)
Christmas Blessings 2012
; E-card Created & Edited by K. R. Overholt Critchfield © 2012


Karen's Note

At the time I was working on this appropriately named Christmas Blessings e-card, using a small photograph clipped from the Internet, the name of the artist escaped me. All I knew was that this was a lovely modern iconic picture. Especially lovely was the depiction of the baby, and I appreciated the subtle, foreshadowing arcs of thorns. In religious terms, the Madonna's red clothing and golden breastplate remind us she is a highborn woman. Essentially, she is a queen without a crown, and her baby is a future king. To me, this was a political statement, softly but truthfully spoken.

Because the picture was small, I needed to search the Internet for a background that would echo the designs used by the original artist, and found something with a sky of stars and hearts that seemed to fit. I spent a lot of time melding the picture with the sparkling background, especially at the top of Madonna's halo, because the halo on the picture I was using had been cut off. Three years later, I discovered a web page that featured an even better photograph than the one I had worked to modify, and was pleased to see the Madonna had a full halo.

More, I learned that this work of art may have been the best known such painting during the Victorian-Edwardian era, a lovely Madonna and Child, painted by Marianne Stokes. Additional research gave me her full name, Marianne Preindlsberger Stokes (1855–1927). She was an Austrian painter, who settled in England when she married a landscape painter. Stokes was one of the leading artists of Queen Victoria's England. Madonna and Child was one of three paintings she created on the same subject, each one very different from the other.



The Nativity Window at St. Peter's Episcopal Church, Brentwood, PA
Christmas Blessings 2011
; E-card Created & Edited by K. R. Overholt Critchfield © 2011


Karen's Note

At the center of this 2011 e-card is a photo of the Nativity Window at St. Peter's Episcopal Church, Brentwood, PA, where I was a parishioner for many years, a member of the choir for most of those years, and at the end, the cantor. My son Matthew had taken photographs of all the stained-glass windows at St. Peter's, so I expected the Nativity Window to be a fairly easy project. However, that window was not photographed well, for the light behind it had faded, late that afternoon. It was necessary to spend a whole lot of time bringing out the colors and the shadow details, because in these windows, the shadows tell more of the story.

You will notice that some of the shadows are cut off at the top of the photograph, and that is because the windows are very tall. The lower sections can be pulled open during the spring and summer. Occasionally, it was my duty to close all those open panels after a service. For the e-card, I had to cleaned up the black lines that are part of the overall stained-glass structure, because the picture was taken at a slight angle. The red background, as I recall, came from a image that was downloadable on the Internet.

That holiday season, I felt good about my e-card, while sending it to my family and friends at St. Peter's. Then, a few years later, while I was singing in the Chancel Choir at Trinity Cathedral, downtown Pittsburgh, a Christmas card from St. Peter's showed up pinned to a hallway bulletin board, and lo! The folks at St. Peter's had created Christmas cards using a professional-looking photograph of their window. I was impressed.



Angel and Archangels, by Rudolf Koch (1876-1934)
Christmas Blessings 2010
; E-card Created & Edited by K. R. Overholt Critchfield © 2010


Karen's Note

My 2010 e-card was prompted by my Internet search for angels. My mother had passed away in April 2010, so thoughts of heaven and angels were often on my mind. Despite all the angels I found in paintings, Nativity scenes and ornaments, nothing seemed to appeal to me as an e-card that was something definitive and original. Finally, I turned to a little project I put together for the children at St. Peter's Episcopal Church, Brentwood, PA. It was an 8 1/2 x 11-inch page using angel designs created by Rudolf Koch (1876-1934), whose work was on the Internet. Designed for the Christmas season, the page was intended to be handed out to children, along with some crayons, so they could spend their time coloring, during a couple long Christmas services.

Rudolf Koch was mainly known in Germany for his calligraphy and font styles, but he also created line drawings for church uses. For my part, I did some modest remodeling of his stylized angels in order to fit everything on a single page, but also made half-page versions of each angel, so the children could choose which individual or group of angels appealed to them most on a cold winter's day. Then I realized my design could also work as a Christmas e-card.



Christmas Blessings 2009; E-card Created & Edited by K. R. Overholt Critchfield © 2009


Karen's Note

When planning my first official Christmas e-card, something to send around to members of my family, friends, and Internet friends, my inspiration came from Nativity scenes, both paintings and three-dimensional creche figures. I came across a picture of these statuettes being sold on a web site, and believed I could create something special. With this picture, a pixel by pixel project took many days, because once the perfect color was chosen for the background, each figure had to be seamlessly melded into that color. It never entered my mind to make a note of the web page that offered this set for sale, or the company that produced them. I will keep looking for that data.



Madonna and Child in a Rose Arbor, by Martin Schongauer (1450-1491)
Christmas Blessings 2004
; E-card Created & Edited by K. R. Overholt Critchfield © 2004


Karen's Note

When I was putting together the Christmas Blessings web page, I remembered that my first attempt at designing a Christmas e-card was for Karen's Branches in 2004. It was created for Christmas 2004, but then was published late, in my InterOverholt Memo of January 2005. A small picture found on the Internet, plus a photo of a red velvet bookcover came together for this e-card. The photo seemed historically old enough to allow me to make some modifications. Specifically, the fact that in the original, the Madonna looked somewhat bald at the top of her head bothered me, so I added some hair. The modified picture included my visual poem, One, which was arranged to look like a candle. It was a case of putting two thoughts into one, so to speak. I wanted the poem to be shaped like a candle, because of a song's refrain that I learned as a very young child: "If everyone lit just one little candle, what a bright world this would be!"

Recently, after hours of searching the Internet, I discovered the artist of the original work of art. Martin Schongauer (1450-1491) created Madonna and Child in a Rose Arbor (1473), a work of tempera on wood (201 x 112 cm), at Saint-Martin, Colmar. The painting is surrounded by an intricate wood carving. It is also known as Madonna in the Rose Garden (1472), and in Deutsch, the title is Maria im Rosenhag (1473). So there are three different titles and two different dates. One web site showed a really fine photograph of the actual three-dimensional work, a much better photo than the small one I found in 2004. My e-card version is a really poor expression of the original. A photo given at another web site was modified and too garish, and the birthdate given for the artist was c.1445, not 1450. Yet, another paragraph states, "Schongauer was born in about 1440 in Colmar, Alsace ...." He lived a long time ago, but his paintings and engravings are still treasured.



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