Shirley Smith

Renaissance Art Historian

Tel. +44 (0)1728 638 271

Email. [email protected]


The Garden House, Bruisyard,

Saxmundham, Suffolk, IP17 2ED

Picturing the Nativity: Painting by Numbers.

15th Century Artists Reinterpret the Scriptures

The description of the Nativity in St Luke's Gospel is brief and to the point, mentioning only the Holy family. But this did not prevent later writers and artists including a full supporting cast and incidental props as a means of embellishing both the mystical and maternal aspects and so capturing the imagination and empathy of the believer. So by the time we get to the 15th century, the story had been expanded to include animals, shepherds, midwives and even contemporary portraits.


In this lecture we will study this by looking at Italian and Flemish 15th Century paintings on the subject and the texts which supplied the artists with their stories. The result is touching, amusing, at times bordering on the blasphemous, but never dull.

Konrad von Soest Nativity 1403

Image source: Web Gallery of Art