The Nativity is one of the most iconic Christmas symbols. From tiny models nestled under Christmas trees to large law displays to live reenactions, Christmas wouldn’t be complete without it.
Needless to say, it comes as no surprise that this veritable Christmas emblem has served as inspiration for many an artist. Here’s a look at six of the most beautiful depictions.
1.Nativity of Jesus, Giotto, 1306
Giotto’s Nativity is characterized by soft and delicate colors as well as a rocky landscape that forms the backdrop. Mary lays on a rocky slope just after having given birth to Jesus, while Joseph is at the bottom, squatting and sleeping to symbolize his passive role in the story. The Nativity of Jesus is in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua as part of the Stories of Jesus located, when facing the altar, in the upper central register on the right wall.
2. Mystic Nativity, Botticelli, 1501
Botticelli’s nativity is particularly interesting because it differs greatly from his Birth of Venus or La Primavera. The figures are rigid, the lines are not sinuous but broken, and the colors are almost violent. One of the artist’s last works, the painting, which is on display at the National Gallery in London, is rich in controversial and interesting symbols. The cave, for example, symbolizes the earthly mission of Jesus, while the embrace of the angels represents universal peace.
3. The Nativity with Angels, Parmigianino, 1525
Parmigianino changes up the style and scenery in his nativity, which is part of a diptych found at the Doria-Pamphili Gallery in Rome. The colors are bright and dense and the structure of the scene is complex. The Holy Family is portrayed inside a hut with an open vault with Joseph and Mary gathered around the Child Jesus, surrounded by worshippers. Behind them, a boy raises his arms up to an angel in heaven.
4. The Nativity with Saints Laurence and Francis of Assisi, Caravaggio, 1600
This 106 in × 78 inch canvas recounts the birth of Jesus…Caravaggio style, of course. The protagonists are street people while the Madonna is a common woman with a melancholic look, The ox and donkey are portrayed in spontaneous poses. This painting also has a very troubled history: it was stolen by the mafia in 1969 and ranks second on the FBI’s list of top ten art crimes.
5. Te Tamari no Atua (The Birth of Christ, Son of God), Paul Gauguin, 1896
Paul Gauguin’s Te Tamari no Atua is certainly an unprecedented interpretation of the birth of Jesus. The protagonists are Polynesian and Mary is portrayed just after childbirth, lying on a lemon-yellow bed with her eyes turned to a nurse holding the baby Jesus in her arms.
6. Nativity, Marc Chagall, 1941
The Russian painter’s dreamlike and fairy-tale style is unmistakable even when confronted with a religious subject. In his Nativity, Chagall portrays a Madonna holding an ethereal child, yet also includes an image of the crucifixion along with a carpet of roses and colorful symbols. Check it out here.