Harry Potter: A History of Magic
This is a perfect festive treat that not only opens (gothic) windows on how Hogwarts was dreamt up but is also a richly illustrated exploration of the supernatural in art and culture, from an ancient Roman text including the word abracadabra to Joseph Wright of Derby’s painting The Alchymist.
• British Library, London, until 28 February.
A scary and fascinating journey through some of nature’s most dangerous evolutionary branches, from cobras and kraits to spiders and Britain’s very own weever fish. Better than a science kit from Santa.
• Natural History Museum, London, until 13 May.
Astronomy Photographer of the Year
Follow the magi to this exhibition of outstanding astrophotography by scientific artists of all ages.
• Royal Observatory, London, until 22 July.
New paintings by the modern master so acclaimed he can afford to open an exhibition when everyone is distracted by the festive season.
• Michael Werner Gallery, London, 19 December to 17 February.
Don’t miss this magical mystery tour through drawings whose waves of suggestiveness open up realms measureless to man.
• Manchester Art Gallery, until 25 February.
The Adoration of the Shepherds, 1646, by pupil of Rembrandt
This painting is credited to one of Rembrandt’s pupils but it is inspired by the master’s own version of this same scene from the Christmas story. Anyway, there is no mistaking its emulation of Rembrandt’s shadowy style. There’s something achingly poignant and evocative about the way the wooden beams of the stable are suspended in gloom while golden light emanates from baby Jesus. The shepherds, having put down a lantern whose light pales by comparison with the revelatory light of Christ, kneel before the miraculous child. The use of darkness and illumination to dramatise the magic of Christmas was a longstanding technique of north European artists such as Geertgen tot Sint Jans, whose 15th-century Nativity at Night is another winter wonder worth checking out at the National Gallery. The Rembrandtesque softness and soulful simplicity of this painting make it the visual equivalent of a Christmas carol echoing through a snowy night.
• National Gallery, London.
New US Embassy, London, by Philadelphia architecture firm Kieran Timberlake
This week US ambassador Woody Johnson gave the first tour of the $1bn (£750m) glass citadel in Nine Elms, south-west London, that aims to be a fortress without walls. The building will have its grand opening in January.
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