Five Gorgeous Nativity Paintings
The story of the Nativity has inspired some of the most affecting and brilliant images in art history. Here is a small selection.
The story of the Nativity, first told in the Gospel According to Matthew in the New Testament, has inspired some of the most graceful, affecting, and brilliant images in the history of art. Chiaroscuro proved above all to be the perfect technique to demonstrate the “new good” as the world imagined it from the Bible: as an episode of refuge, an announcement and, above all, the refulgent light that emerged from the newborn and lit up the world’s darkness. Here are five of the best paintings created around this event.
1. The Adoration of the Shepherds, pupil of Rembrandt, 1646
Small clusters of light give the impression of intimacy. However, it is the light emanating from baby Christ that is more powerful than that of the room and which draws our attention toward him as “the light of the world,” the future savior, at the center of the scene.
Although the light is dim, it is possible to observe various details, secondary figures and subplots that add interest to the work, such as a child playing with a dog on the right-hand side, and the cross formed by the rays on the beams.
Rembrandt painted a series of scenes in the life of Christ for Prince Frederick d’Orange (1587-1647) and this painting is based on “the adoration of the shepherds” of that series. It was probably painted by a pupil of Rembrandt, who could have been inspired by the original while it was in the studio.
2. The Nativity, El Greco, 1603-1605
This beautiful scene by El Greco simplifies the birth of Christ without the presence of the shepherds. He painted a gloomy scene that is only interrupted by the light that emanates from the baby Jesus (that radiant light of the world represented by all artists as if it were irresistible). The moment when the world discovered the divine light.
The painting also contains perspectives that are typical of the painter, such as the twisted head of an ox and Mary’s feet, which emphasize that this painting (as in many others that he produced) were designed to be viewed from below.
3. Nativity at Night, Geertgen tot Sint Jans, 1490
This is one of the most captivating nighttime Nativity scenes. The bright light emanates, once again, from the baby Jesus in the crib and illuminates the Virgin Mary, who is leaning beside the enchanted angels to the left.
The shining angel that announces the birth to the shepherds from a distant mountain lends another contrast between the darkness and divine light.
4. Nativity scene in Castelseprio, unknown master, 9th century
This is one of the most complete scenes regarding the Biblical narrative, but unfortunately is one of the hardest to see. We can deduce, however, that the baby Jesus was just in the direction toward which the Virgin and the two figures by her side are looking. This fresco was discovered in the Roman fort of Castelseprio in the 1950s.
5. Mystical Navitity, Sandro Botticelli, 1500
This image by Botticelli has been called “Mystical Nativity” for a long time due to its mysterious symbolism. It combines the birth of Christ as narrated in the New Testament with the vision of the Second Coming as promised in the Book of Revelations. The Second Coming – the return of Christ to the earth – would bring the end of the world and the reconciliation of devout Christians
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