Night Nativity

German (German)
16th century
Oil on copper
Work : 19 x 15 in. (48.26 x 38.1 cm)
Credit Line
Gift of David Kamansky and Gerald Wheaton
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This painting of Christ's nativity was inspired by a mystic vision experienced by Saint Bridget of Sweden in the 14th century who saw the infant Jesus emanating a golden light that outshone every earthly light around him. The composition may have been modeled on a similar image painted by the Dutch artist Geertgen tot Sin Jans in about 1490 that is now in the National Gallery of Art in London, England. A striking feature of both paintings is the Virgin Mary's extremely high hairline. During the 14th and 15th centuries, it was considered beautiful in Europe for women to have large foreheads, leading some women to pluck or shave their hairlines to increase the expanse of skin above their eyes. This painting is also notable for the naturalistic depiction of the Virgin Mary's facial features, with her hooded eyes, bumpy nose and strong chin. Such naturalistic figure painting was embraced by many Northern European artists during the 15th and 16th centuries as a way of making their art more approachable and relevant to contemporary viewers.  

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