From Giotto to Gauguin, the Nativity as told in art

Ten 'Christmas masterpieces' in Italy and abroad

From Giotto to Gauguin, the Nativity as told in art

Rome, December 15 - The birth of Christ is a theme explored by many of the great masters of pictorial art. From Giotto to Gauguin, these artists have interpreted the Nativity in a range of styles, variously placing the accent on the mysticism, tenderness, realism or majesty of the scene. The Christmas holiday season provides a good opportunity to discover some of these artworks in churches and museums across Italy and abroad. In the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, for example, it is possible to admire Giotto's early 14th century Nativity of Jesus depicting Mary, lying inside under a canopy, placing the baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes in the manger. Visitors to the National Gallery in London can instead admire Sandro Botticelli's mystical Nativity, painted in 1501 and featuring rigid figures and strong colours. Here, it is also possible to view Piero della Francesca's 1470 masterpiece on the same theme, showing Mary kneeling in adoration before a newly-born Christ who is laid on her cloak against a rural background with a Tuscan feel. The Nativity by Albrecht Dürer (1504) at the Neue Pinakothek in Munich - the central panel in the Paumgartner altarpiece - shows the Christ child lying on Mary's cloak surrounded by angels as Joseph looks on. Also at the Neue Pinakothek, don't miss Gauguin's Te tamari no atua (The Son of God) in which the dark-skinned Madonna and Child are interpreted in a more familiar and less religious key. El Greco's Adoration of the Shepherds, kept in the Prado Museum in Madrid, is a particularly evocative interpretation of the birth of Christ with striking light-dark contrasts and in which the figures are arranged in a spiral. Visitors to the National Gallery in Washington can admire the Nativity by Lorenzo Lotto, dating to 1523; in this small painting the viewer is placed directly inside the stable with Christ at the centre between Mary and Joseph. Beato Angelico's Adoration of the Child or Nativity is on view at St Mark's Convent in Florence. This 1440 fresco shows St Catherine of Alexandria, the Virgin, St Jospeh and St Peter Martyr arranged in a semi-circle around the baby Jesus in adoration. Correggio's Adoration of the Shepherds, known at The Night, is on display at the Gemäldegalerie in Dresden. This mystical nativity has a night time setting, with the light source appearing to come directly from the child. Visitors to Florence's cathedral can observe the splendid stained glass window designed by Paolo Uccello and created by Angelo Lippi in 1443, with baby Jesus at the centre and Mary and the shepherds on one side and St Joseph on the other, and the ox and donkey in the background. photo: Giotto's Nativity in Padua's Scrovegni Chapel

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