Feb 21, 2007

The Nativity

The Nativity

c. 1485–1490

Gerard David

(Netherlandish, 1450/60–1523)

Oil on wood panel

Framed: 102.5 x 76 x 7.5 cm (40 3/8 x 29 15/16 x 2 15/16 in.); Unframed: 85.2 x 59.7 cm (33 9/16 x 23 1/2 in.)

Leonard C. Hanna, Jr. Fund 1958.320


The nativity was one of the most frequently depicted subjects in western art. The event marks the entrance of Christ into the world and the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. In the distance an angel announces the birth of Christ to the shepherds tending their flocks. One shepherd is already at the stable adoring the Christ child. In the background, the cityscape represents Jerusalem, where Christ would be crucified, represented here as a northern medieval city. Only Matthew and Luke describe Christ’s nativity in the Gospels, which led medieval writers and artists to amplify the event. Some scholars have suggested that the head of Joseph is a donor portrait. Gerard David was born in Oudewater, now located in Utrecht. He spent his mature career in Bruges, where he was a member of the painters’ guild. Upon the death of Hans Memling in 1494, David became Bruges’s leading painter of devotional panels. He was also a manuscript illuminator.

See also
MED - Medieval Art
Medieval Art
Type of artwork: 

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