Religious Paintings of the Nativity During the Renaissance

Written by valerie taylor
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Religious Paintings of the Nativity During the Renaissance
St. Bridget of Sweden's vision influenced Renaissance artists who painted the nativity scene. ( Images)

The birth of Christ was a significant event for Christian Europe during the Renaissance, and numerous patrons commissioned artists to paint the nativity scene. Over the centuries, the setting remained uniform in many aspects but when changes did occur, they reflected the doctrinal interests of the period. For example, as the setting changed from a cave to a stable in the twelfth century, the paintings illuminated contemporary beliefs about the celebrated event based on biblical interpretation, legends and folklore.

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Angelico's Nativity

Fra Angelico painted "Nativity with Saints Lawrence and Andrew;" between 1439 and 1443. The painting remains in the Convent of San Marco in Florence, Italy. The work exemplifies early Renaissance art and followed other 15th-century artists who depicted the scene based on a vision received by St. Bridget of Sweden during the previous century. Bridget wrote that a divine light bathed the unclothed Child while his mother worshipped with head bent and arms clasped.

Boticelli's Mystical Nativity

Sandro Botticelli painted "The Mystical Nativity" sometime around the year 1500 A.D. The London National Gallery still houses the original work. Dante's influence on Botticelli is evident in the painting's dark and conflicted mood. Like other of his religious renditions, this piece investigates the conflict between the spiritual and physical world. It is the only work signed by the artist.

Correggio's Holy Night

Antonio da Correggio was commissioned to paint his "Nativity," (Holy Night) in 1522 and completed the work between 1528 and 1530. The painting remains in Dresden, Germany. Correggio's scene is unique for the period because he created one of Europe's first night settings. The presence of midwives alludes to a story in "Protevangelium," which establishes the women as witnesses to Mary's status as a virgin at the time of the birth.

Caravaggio's Nativity

Michelangelo Merisi da Carravaggio completed "Nativity with St. Francis and St. Lawrence," in 1609, just one year before his death. The angelic figure holds a banner proclaiming glory to god in Latin. The original, once located in Palermo, is now believed lost. Mafia informants, give differing accounts about what happened to the painting after it was stolen in 1969, claimed that it was ripped during removal from the frame, or that it was damaged by farm animals and subsequently burnt.

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