The Nativity is a devotional mid-1450s oil-on-wood panel painting by the Early Netherlandish painter Petrus Christus. It shows a nativity scene with grisaille archways and trompe-l’œil sculptured reliefs. Christus was influenced by the first generation of Netherlandish artists, especially Jan van Eyck and Rogier van der Weyden.
About Nativity (Christus) in brief
The Nativity is a devotional mid-1450s oil-on-wood panel painting by the Early Netherlandish painter Petrus Christus. It shows a nativity scene with grisaille archways and trompe-l’œil sculptured reliefs. Christus was influenced by the first generation of Netherlandish artists, especially Jan van Eyck and Rogier van der Weyden, and the panel is characteristic of the simplicity and naturalism of that period. The panel was acquired by Andrew Mellon in the 1930s, and was one of several hundreds from his personal collection donated to the National Gallery of Art in Washington. It has suffered damage and was restored in the early 1990s for an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Art historians have suggested completion dates ranging from the early 1440s to the early 1460s, with c. 1455 seen as probable. No evidence of missing wing panels exists, yet its size suggests it may have been a central panel of a large triptych. The setting is a shed enclosed in the front by what appear to be two stone pillars and an archway, rendered in grisailsle. On each pillar stand statues of Adam and Eve – Adam on the left and Eve to the right. In the shed Mary and Joseph share an intensely private moment before the Annunciation to the shepherds of the Christ child’s birth. They are in bright colors, Mary wears a long flowing blue robe, Joseph a green cape, and Joseph a brown cape in a hand over a hand.
They gaze reverently at the newborn figure of Jesus who lies on the ground. Behind them is a crumbling wall with three Romanesque windows with three low, amiably amiably looking into the shed. Animals are chatting against the wall, leaning into the wall of the shed, and four small angels are visible in small stalls in the back. The Fall of Man is shown in six scenes from the Book of Genesis within the archivolt,rendered in relief. Two are ofAdam and Eve; their expulsion from paradise and Adam tilling the soil. The others are of Cain and Abel: their sacrifice to God; Cain slaying Abel; God appearing to Abel; Cain expelled to the Land of Nod. The figures in the archway depict biblical scenes of sin and punishment, signaling the advent of Christ’s sacrifice, with an over-reaching message of the “Fall and Redemption of humankind”. Inside the archways, surrounded by four angels, is the Holy Family; beyond, a landscape extends into the far background. It is one of Christus’s most important works. The distinction between the figures and the space around them is characteristic in the one-point perspective, as is its bold use of color. The painting is reflective of the 14th-century Devotio Moderna movement, and contains complex Christian symbolism, subtly juxtaposing Old and New Testament iconography. The overall atmosphere is one of simplicity, serenity and understated sophistication.