Lorenzo Monaco, The Nativity

Tempera on wood
Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy

This is a panel from the predella of the Coronation of the Virgin that Lorenzo painted for the Camaldolese church of St. Mary of the Angels in Florence. The iconography follows the vision of Bridget of Sweden: the child on the ground naked and luminous, Mary kneeling in adoration with St. Joseph. The ox, ass, manger, and heavenly host are of course from the original iconography that follows Luke 2.

Also faithful to Luke 2 is the way of picturing the annunciation to the shepherds. In verse 9 "the brightness of God shone round about them; and they feared with a great fear." Accordingly, these shepherds do not simply recline with their pipes as in many other Nativities; instead, they are struck to the ground like Paul on the road to Damascus, shielding their eyes against the overwhelming revelation. The angel says "fear not," yet his right hand holds a staff or sceptre of whose purpose they have no idea.

Their mountain on the left rhymes with an empty height on the right with a dark tree in the background. This can only be an allusion the the hill of Calvary and the tree on which the baby in the foreground is destined to die.

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Read more about the birth of Jesus.

Photographed at the site by Richard Stracke, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.