The first U.S. official Christmas stamp was issued in 1962, and it was a wreath, followed by the National Christmas Tree (1963), poinsettias, holly, and mistletoe (1964), and an angel (1965). The 1966 Christmas stamp was the first to depict a painting of Mary and child, a portion of the painting “Madonna and Child with Angels” by Hans Memling.
This painting is one of four at the National Gallery of Art painted by this Netherlandish artist active in the 1400’s. It is listed as a part of the Andrew W. Mellon Collection but is not currently on display.
Each element of the larger painting is full of symbolism, typical of the style of the time period. Here is a link to the National Gallery’s more detailed description of the image. The child reaches for an apple (not able to be seen in the stamp) being offered by an angel, representing Original Sin. Mary is enthroned, as she is in many paintings of the period, and the angel who offers the fruit of redemption is in fact dressed in a dalmatic, the liturgical vestment worn by a deacon during the solemn High Mass. Around the arch is a carved vine of grapes referring to the wine of the eucharistic rite. On the crystal and porphyry columns stand David, as an ancestor of Christ, and Isaiah, one of the prophets who foretold the Virgin Birth. I think I missed out when I didn’t take art history in college.
To explore more images of U.S. Postage Stamps, there is a gallery linked here. I think I would send more Christmas greetings if the stamps were still 5 cents, wouldn’t you?