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An Art Advent Calendar of Nativities

Georges de la Tour, The Newborn Christ, 1640s, Museum of Fine Art, Rennes, France. Detail.


An Art Advent Calendar of Nativities

Tomorrow is December and that means it is the countdown until Christmas Day. To celebrate, here is an art advent calendar of Nativity scenes; arranged in chronological order.

1. Domenico di Ghirlandaio

Art Advent Calendar
Domenico Ghirlandaio, Adoration of the Shepherds, 1485, Sassetti chapel, Florence, Italy.

Domenico Ghirlandaio was an Italian Renaissance painter from Florence, who mainly painted frescoes in situ. In art Adoration of the Shepherd scenes are usually balanced with Adoration of the Magi scenes, find Ghirlandaio’s magi version here.

2. Piero della Francesca

piero della francesca nativity Piero della Francesca, The Nativity, about 1415/20 - 1492 , National Gallery, London Piero della Francesca, Nativity
Piero della Francesca, The Nativity, about 1415/20 – 1492, National Gallery, London, England.

The second in our art advent calendar is a Nativity scene by the Italian Early Renaissance painter Piero della Francesca, whose Nativity painting you can read more about here.

3. Sandro Botticelli

Art Advent Calendar
Sandro Botticelli, The Mystical nativity, 1500, National Gallery, London, England.

Botticelli, another Early Renaissance painter, is known for famous paintings such as his Birth of Venus. His mystic Nativity shows the baby Jesus reaching up to Mary and oblivious of all his visitors. At the top the golden dome of heaven is open and twelve angels crowd around. In the foreground, three pairs of angels and men embrace while among their feet demons scuttle for shelter in the underworld through cracks in the rocks!

4. Benvenuto Tisi

File:1509 Garofalo Adoration of the Magi anagoria.JPG
Benvenuto Tisi, The Adoration of the Magi, 1509, Gemäldegalerie, Berlin, Germany.

In this Nativity scene by the Late-Rennaisance-Mannerist, Benvenuto Tisi, my favourite details have to be the tiny dog and despondent monkey. What a treat.

5. Bernardino Luini

Art Advent Calendar
Bernardino Luini, Nativity, 1500s, Gemäldegalerie, Berlin, Germany.

This North Italian painter is said to have worked with Leonardo Da Vinci! What’s your favourite detail of the nativity scene? The soft fur on the donkey’s nose? The pink angel wings and delicate tutu? The starry night in the background?

6. Bruegel the Elder

Anbetung der Könige (Bruegel, 1564) – cropped.jpg; Art Advent Calendar
Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Adoration of the Kings, 1564, National Gallery, London, England.

An important milestone in the work of the Netherlandish Renaissance artist Bruegel. His first painting of entirely large figures – just look at those fabulous facial expressions and outlandish clothes.

7. Federico Barocci

The Nativity, Federico Barrocci, 1597, Museo del Prado, Madrid, Christmas in Art; Art Advent Calendar
Federico Barrocci, The Nativity, 1597, Prado Museum, Madrid, Spain.

Frederico Barocci is one of the most important mannerist painters of the 16th century. His paintings have a color, characterised by warm color shades.

8. A possible Titian

File:Titian - The Adoration of the Shepherds OU CHCH JBS 79.jpg
Possibly Titian, 1488-1576, Adoration of the Shepherds, Christ Church College collection, Oxford, England.

To explore a series on some definite Titians, click here.

9. Correggio

Antonio da Correggio, the Adoration of the Shepherds, 1529–1530, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden
Antonio da Correggio, the Adoration of the Shepherds, 1529–1530, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden, Germany.

This painting by Corregio is known as NativityThe Holy Night and  Adoration of the Shepherds! Alberto Pratoneri commissioned it for his family chapel in the church of San Prospero of Reggio Emilia.

10. El Greco

Art Advent Calendar
El Greco, Adoration of the Shepherds, 1605, The Metropolitan Museum, New York, USA.

Doménikos Theotokópoulos is better known as El Greco (“The Greek”), the Greek painter, sculptor and architect of the Spanish Renaissance. This Nativity scene characterizes his later work, which tends towards abstraction and dance-like motion.

11. Peter Paul Rubens

File:La adorazione dei pastori (Rubens, Fermo).jpg; Art Advent Calendar
Peter Paul Rubens, Adoration of the Shepherds,1608, Pinacoteca Civica, Fermo, Italy.

A Baroque masterpiece, whose colours almost look like something out of a 21st century video game.

12. A Stolen Caravaggio

Art Advent Calendar
Recreation of Carravagio, Nativity, 1609, stolen from the Oratory of Saint Lawrence, Palermo, Italy.

Stolen in 1969, by the Mafia, this Old Master painting is missing to this day. Read all about it here.

13. Matthias Stom

File:The Adoration of the Shepherds - Matthias Stom (Stomer) - Google Cultural Institute.jpg; Art Advent Calendar
Matthias Stom, The Adoration of the Shepherds, 1635-1640, North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, USA.

A Nativity to be admired if not just for the incredible depiction of hands and wrinkles.

14. Georges de la Tour

File:Georges de La Tour - Newlyborn infant - Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rennes.jpg
Georges de la Tour, The Newborn Christ, 1640s, Museum of Fine Art, Rennes, France.

A beautiful image of Mary holding baby Jesus, in this fabulous French Baroque masterpiece.

15. Rembrandt

Nativity, 1654 - Rembrandt; Art Advent Calendar
Rembrandt, Sketch and Study: Nativity, 1654.

Today we have a pre-painting study by the Dutch draughtsman, painter, and printmaker, Rembrandt.

16. Bartolomé Estebán Murillo

File:Bartolomé Esteban Murillo - The Nativity - Google Art Project.jpg
Bartolomé Estebán Murillo, The Nativity, around 1665-70, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, United States.

Murillo is one of the greatest 17th-century Spanish painters. His Nativity is painted on obsidian, a lustrous volcanic black glass!

17. Jean-Honoré Fragonard

Jean Honoré Fragonard, The Visit to the Nursery, c. 1775, NGA 32685.jpg; Art Advent Calendar
Jean-Honoré Fragonard, A Visit to the Nursery, 1775, National Gallery of Art, Washington, USA.

Okay, so, for variety, the nativity of the day is not actually a nativity. But there are definite affinities with a nativity scene! Fragonard is usually associated in the popular imagination with amusing and mildly erotic works, such as The Swing, yet he was also an observant painter of family life. The Visit to the Nursery is an image of parental affection. In a rustic interior (stable?), a fashionable young couple gaze lovingly at their sleeping child, who is looked after by an (angelic?) elderly woman seated beside the cradle (crib?). Three other children (shepherds?) have wandered into the room and look on attentively. 

18. William Blake

“It was the winter wild,
While the Heav’n-born child,
All meanly wrapt in the rude manger lies…”

John Milton, On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity, On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity, Stanzas 1-3.
William Blake, The Descent of Peace, c.1815, Butts set, Huntingdon Library, Califoria, USA.

For today’s art advent day we’re jumping from the 1700s to the 1800s with William Blake and his illustrations for John Milton’s nativity ode On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity.

19. Paul Gauguin

File:The Birth - Te tamari no atua Paul Gauguin 1896.jpg
Paul Gauguin, The Birth, 1896, Neue Pinakothek, Munich, Germany.

With the traditional stable scene in the background, Gaugin’s image of a Polynesian woman post-labour is inscribed at the bottom with “Te tamari no atua” which roughly means — Gauguin’s grasp of Tahitian wasn’t great— ‘The Child of God’. The standard interpretation of this painting links the fact that Gaugin’s mistress gave birth around Christmas time in 1896.

20. Eric Gill

Art Advent Calendar
Eric Gill, Nativity with Midwife, 1913, The Tate Britain, London, England.

This wonderfully modern Nativity scene is a miniature (51 x 51 mm) wood engraving on paper, by Eric Gill. Gill was an English sculptor, typeface designer, and printmaker, who was associated with the Arts and Crafts movement – an international trend in the decorative and fine arts between 1880 and 1920.

21. Brian Yale

Art Advent Calendar
Brian Yale, Nativity, 1969-71, Tate Britain, London, England.

A screen-print showing a plethora of religious symbols. Quite a different style of Nativity to our other Advent offerings.

22. Keith Haring

Untitled (Nativity)
Keith Haring, Untitled (Nativity), 1983, The Keith Haring Foundation, New York, USA.

A magical Nativity by gay icon and art legend, Keith Haring.

23. Tracy Emin

Tracey Emin, Nativity; Art Advent Calendar
Tracey Emin, Nativity, 2013, private collection.

A simple and emotional nativity scene focused purely on mother and child. For an extra advent treat, read about Emin’s (in)famous My Bed here.

24. Carol Aust

Carol Aust, Nativity, 2018, First Presbyterian Church, Berkeley, California, USA.

A final jolly nativity scene by the Californian artist Carol Aust.

Merry Christmas!

If these twenty-four Nativity scenes in our art advent calendar have not sated you, here are eleven more for your seasonal delights, and an extra eleven can be found here, plus even more here! Christmas is a time for indulgence, so also up for grabs is this festive collection of more generalised Festive images in art.

Isla is a Classicist and lover of learning about art. She recently moved to London, having spent a year in Japan after graduating from the University of Cambridge.


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