The Nativity

Mid-13th century
Manuscript illumination
MS. 14 (85.MK.239), fol. 10v.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

This is basically an instance of the traditional iconography in which the mother and child are pictured in parallel recumbent postures, the ox and ass stand behind the manger, and Joseph rests his cheek on his right hand. At the same time the image reflects some innovations operating in the 13th century. One is reduction of the sense of separateness between mother and child, in this case by having Mary reach across the traditional space to grasp the side of the manger.

Another innovation of this century is showing the beasts pushing their muzzles into the child, an allusion to the Eucharist. The vessel between their heads may be an adaptation of the one the midwives use in traditional images and an allusion to the sacrament of Baptism.

The curtains are also a feature of some Nativities of the 13th century (example) and the early 14th (example).

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Read more about images of the birth of Jesus.

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