The Best Time of the Year: Christmas in Art

Pola Otterstein 24 December 2021 min Read

To many of us, the Christian religious and cultural celebration called Christmas is surely one of our favorite times of the year. Burl Ives famously sang “Have a holly, jolly Christmas… It’s the best time of the year…” So, let’s sum up these jolly holidays and look again at what Christmas in art looks like.

One of the best ways to do this is to look at some beautiful pieces of art. Which things remind you of Christmas the most? If it happens to be angels, snow, and the Christmas spirit – that’s what we can find in the paintings shown below.

Did you know that during the Middle Ages, King Richard II of England organized a Christmas celebration, at which in 1377, three hundred sheep were eaten? It seems that not much has changed since then! 

Pieter Bruegel, The Census at Bethlehem

A Flemish village covered in snow is one of the first paintings from Western art to present a snowy landscape. Bruegel depicted the scene out of his local, daily life on a cold winter’s day, adding only Joseph and the pregnant Virgin Mary on a donkey. The scene is described in Luke 2, 1-5.

christmas in art: Pieter Bruegel, The Census at Bethlehem
Christmas in Art: Pieter Bruegel, The Census at Bethlehem, 1566, Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels, Belgium.

Fra Angelico, The Annunciation

This beautiful piece is a transition from the late Gothic style into the Renaissance due to the stylistic transformations between those periods. We can see a complex use of light and perspective, but still the rendering of objects is quite stiff and decorative. The delicate and innocent Mary is presented in an outdoor environment receiving a blessing from Gabriel. What was novel about Fra Angelico was that he depicted the figures in an outdoor setting.

christmas in art: Fra Angelico, The Annunciation, 1437-1446,
Christmas in Art: Fra Angelico, The Annunciation, 1437-1446, Convent of San Marco, Florence, Italy. Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

Federico Barrocci, The Nativity

Federico Barocci was an Italian painter active in the Renaissance, considered to have been one of the best painters of his times. In this picture we see Mary kneeling before God. There is an indication of a strong bond between the mother and her child.

The Nativity, Federico Barrocci, 1597, Museo del Prado, Madrid, Christmas in Art
Christmas in Art: Federico Barrocci, The Nativity, 1597, Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain.

Norman Rockwell, Christmas Homecoming

This one is a great example of an honest joy. The people in the illustration look so jolly… And that’s what Christmas should be about – laughter, joy, and happiness. Norman Rockwell asked his relatives and friends to pose for this piece to make it look more realistic. We can all imagine the joy of seeing our loved ones during Christmas time.

Christmas Homecoming, Norman Rockwell, 1948, Cover illustration for The Saturday Evening Post, December 25, 1948. Norman Rockwell Museum Collections, Christmas in Art
Christmas in Art: Norman Rockwell, Christmas Homecoming, 1948, cover illustration for The Saturday Evening Post, 1948. Norman Rockwell Museum Collections.

Claude Monet, Snow Scene at Argenteuil

This Impressionist painting might not remind one of Christmas directly, but I think it has a real Christmas feeling to it, as well as being so beautiful at the same time! It shows a boulevard by the Seine river with lots and lots of snow. It emphasizes the painter’s strong connection to the seasonality of the weather and its colors. Monet‘s way of presenting this scene – not simply a winter landscape – shows how strongly influenced he was by the Ukiyo-e prints popular during his times.

Christmas in art: Claude Monet, Snow Scene at Argenteuil
Christmas in Art: Claude Monet, Snow Scene at Argenteuil, 1875, The National Gallery, London, UK.


Flowers in art: Claude Monet, Tulip field in Holland, 1886, Musée d'Orsay, Paris, France Painting

Viva Floralia! All Flowers in Art

The Floralia festival was celebrated every spring in Ancient Rome in honor of the goddess Flora. Because there is nothing more beautiful than flowers...

Andra Patricia Ritisan 27 April 2022


10 Facts to Know About Fernando Botero

Fernando Botero is a Colombian figurative artist and sculptor. Once you see his art, you will never forget it. He depicts people and figures in...

Zuzanna Stańska 19 April 2022


The Collision of Old and New in American Paintings: 5 Vignettes of Artists

Contemporary American painters experiment with older and more traditional painting techniques and take those methods in new directions, showcasing an...

Guest Profile 28 February 2022

La Peau de l'Ours La Peau de l'Ours Family of Saltimbanques by Pablo Picasso Painting

La Peau de L’Ours: Avant-Garde Art as an Investment

Today, historical Avant-Gardes are appreciated by every art lover, taught in every school, and worth millions of dollars, but it hasn’t always been...

Arianna Richetti 17 January 2022