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The Adoration of the Shepherds – Caravaggio
Caravaggio paints Mary sightly set apart from the men, emphasizing the unique bond of mother and baby. His technique of using dramatic lighting brings the human drama to the forefront as the rest of the world fades away.
Botticelli's picture is rich in symbolism. It combines Christ's birth on Christmas with his anticipated return at the end of time. The circle of twelve angels dancing at the top of the painting represent the twelve months of the year. The angels at the bottom are helping to bring deceased souls to Heaven.
The Nativity – Federico Barrocci, 1597
Painted in soft colors and with great affection by the artist, Mary exudes a gentle, maternal aura. Meanwhile, Joseph is at the door, excitedly pointing to his new son and presumably sharing the miraculous story of his birth.
The Adoration of the Shepherds – Giorgione, 1510
Historians think the stable Jesus was born in was a cave, which is how Giorgione depicts it. There are two traditions about Joseph, one that he was a strong, young worker, the other that he was older than Mary by quite a bit. Giorgione has chosen the latter, and Joseph may even be napping while the younger Mary kneels in prayer.
The Nativity – Arthur Hughes, 1858
In this painting, Mary seems quite young. As she wraps Jesus in swaddling clothes, it's with the tenderness of a brand new mother. She has a huge responsibility ahead of her but is not alone. God has sent angels to watch over mother and child.
The Nativity at Night - Geertgen tot Sint Jans, 1490
A number of Nativity scenes depict Jesus as the main source of light. This is from a vision of St. Bridget, who writes that he shone brighter than the sun. In this painting, there are also two lesser sources of light, the angel still shining in the sky over the fields where the shepherds watched their sheep, and even more dimly, the fire of the shepherds. The result is a stark contrast between the things of earth and those of heaven.
The Nativity – Jacopo Tintoretto, 1550s
Tintoretto's painting was painted in a number of different phases and saw some dramatic changes to the layout. The result is a somewhat chaotic and busy painting that is nevertheless divinely calm at heart. Here, Joseph, Mary and another woman, probably Anne the grandmother of Jesus, gaze with great devotion upon Jesus.
The Adoration of the Shepherds - El Greco 1612
El Greco's unique style is immediately noticeable in this unusual nativity. The coloring, distortion of the figures, and slightly off-kilter viewpoint convey a sense of overwhelming awe. There's domesticity here, but also a powerful energy of the sort that could change the entire course of history.
The Adoration of the Magi - Peter Paul Rubens, 1628
In the crowd are noblemen, wise men from the east, soldiers, shirtless servants, all manner of animals, angels, and even Peter Paul Rubens himself. This great mass represents how all the earth hastens to the side of Jesus to adore him. He seems so small in comparison, but he is the greatest of all.
Northern Nativity - William Kurelek
Kurelek's nativity is set in the snowy expanse of Canada. Mary appears to be of native ancestry, and mother and child look lovingly upon each other while down the hill modern life speeds past, unaware of the miracle taking place if the drivers would just slow down and look up.