Reliquary with Shepherds' Gifts for the Christ Child

Eastern France, 3rd quarter of the 11th century
Musée National de l'Age Médiévale, Paris

The three men appear to be the shepherds of Luke 2. They wear simple tunics, and the gift offered by the first of them is in a sort of open bowl, which would not be appropriate for the gold, frankincense, and myrrh brought by the Magi. But it is rare for images this early to have the shepherds bringing gifts, and in some ways the work references traditional Adoration of the Magi images. The men wear Phrygian caps, they bend forward in the manner of the Magi in many early examples, and the child sits on the lap of his mother, who herself is seated on a throne.

The composition of the sculpture puts the two groups in distinct areas separated by the tower in the center, but the giving and reception of the first man's gift breaks the separation, a neat way of expressing the reconciliation of God and man that is the child's purpose in being born.

Read more about images of the Shepherds.
Read more about the Adoration of the Magi.

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