About our painting
Our Nativity was most probably painted in a minor workshop in Bruges at the start of the sixteenth century. The composition clearly betrays the influence of those two influential painters who were active here: Hans Memling (1430 – 1494) and Gerard David (1460 – 1523).
Christ’s birth fulfilled a prophecy from the Old Testament (Isaiah). Angels, who witnessed Christ’s birth are singing His glory; the two angels at the top of our painting are holding a sheet of music upside down where one can still read “Gloria” (in excelsis Deo).
The Nativity of Jesus, celebrated at Christmas, was told in two Gospels, by Saint Luke and by Saint Mathew. Both accounts differ in many key elements.
Joseph took Mary to Bethlehem for the census ordered by the Roman emperor Augustus, as he belonged to the House of King David. As they found no place to stay in town Mary gave birth in a manger, next to an ass and an ox, which one sees at left. The traditional stable has been replaced here by the ruins of the palace of King David in Bethlehem. Clearly by this time the earthly glory of the House of David had faded.
Two important Medieval 14th century devotional sources influenced late fifteenth and early sixteenth century painters:
- At left one sees a column, leaning against which, according to the “Meditations on the Life of Christ” by the so-called Pseudo-Bonaventura, Mary gave birth to Jesus.
- The second important source were the Mystical Visions of Bridget of Sweden. Shortly before her death in 1373 she described her influential vision on the Birth of Christ, which transformed the way that this subject was represented. Before Bridget Mary used to be shown lying, since Bridget she is kneeling (sometimes even praying) in front of Jesus. The newborn child is no longer represented in swaddling clothes (as described by Saint Luke), but he lays naked on the floor.
As to Joseph, while standing in front of Jesus, he is protecting with his hand a candle, which is actually representing Jesus as the light of the world. Mary is wearing a white dress, referring to her purity and a blue cloak, relating to the sky.
Why should you buy this painting?
Because it is an early example of devotional painting, which was probably painted over here in Bruges, in those days still one of the major cultural European centres North of the Alps.