6 Works Of Art About Christmas: What Is Their Story?


Nowadays we are very used to seeing representations that depict Christmas scenes. In fact, since medieval times there have been works of art on this topic; from the Nativity of Christ to the adoration of the shepherds and the Magi. However, the artistic representation of Christmas was not always common.

In the first centuries of Christianity, during the so-called early Christian art, the Christian message was expressed through symbols such as the fish or the good shepherd. Christmas iconography did not become universal until well into the Middle Ages, but since then it has not left the artistic panorama of the Christian world.. Today we invite you to a Christmas tour of some of the best works of art that reflect the theme of Christmas. Enjoy.

Art and Christmas

From the Byzantine mosaics of Ravenna, where one of the first representations of the adoration of the Magi is collected, to the wonderful baroque canvases of the Counter-Reformation; Don’t miss this little review of 10 of the best works of art that tell us about Christmas.

1. Nativity, by Federico Barocci (Prado Museum, Madrid)

The main charm of this Nativity is the intimate light that emanates from the painting and that seems to lovingly envelop the Virgin and Child, who we see alone and in the foreground. In the framework of a humble stable, Mary kneels, ecstatic, before the miracle that has just happened.. His eyes focus on the newborn who, placed on some rags, lies among the straws of the manger.

Unlike other Nativities, in this canvas by Barocci (1535-1612), executed in 1597, Mary and Jesus have absolute prominence. Saint Joseph and the shepherds are on a much more distant plane; The Virgin’s husband points out the scene, exhilarated, to those who enter.

The rumor does not seem to cloud the dream of Mary in the least, who, dressed in a soft pink garment, breaks the traditional Marian iconography that represents her dressed in red, a symbol of passion.. In the foreground, the basket with the bread and the sack of wheat seems to be a clear allusion to the Eucharist, as well as the two ears of wheat that, crossed over the heads of mother and son, braid the shape of a cross.

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Nativity of Federico Barocci

2. Adoration of the Shepherds, by Caravaggio (Regional Museum of Messina)

The absolute genius of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610) is verified in this brilliant canvas that, curiously, is one of the great unknowns within his artistic corpus. The main originality of the composition is the figure of the Virgin who, exhausted after giving birth, has fallen asleep with Jesus in her arms, and does not even notice the arrival of the shepherds. José, sitting near her, seems to be watching over her dream. The work is one of the last of the painter, since it was made a year before his death, in 1609..

The realism of the setting and the characters is typical of Caravaggio and the Baroque in general. Let us not forget that the baroque movement, as a vehicle of the Catholic Counter-Reformation, collected part of its typology from daily life, with the aim of bringing faith closer to the believer. On the other hand, it is typical of Caravaggio to draw inspiration from humble characters and even from lower circles of society, as was already evident in his Death of the Virgin, where it seems that the model for Mary was a prostitute.

Caravaggio's Adoration of the Shepherds

3. Mosaic of the Magi (San Apolinar Nuevo, Ravenna)

When evoking works of art about Christmas we often forget the first examples in history. One of the most brilliant is found in the splendid mosaics of the church of San Apolinar Nuevo, located in Ravenna, Italy, a city that was the capital of the Ostrogothic exarchate of Theodoric and, a little later, the main enclave of the empire of Justinian (17th century). SAW).

It is not the first representation of the Magi of the East, but it is one of the earliest. Among the characters in the very long procession that goes to worship the Child, we find the three figures that the Bible describes simply as magicians or astronomers. The status of kings and the number of three were granted to them later, since neither one nor the other is specified in the Gospels.

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In the Ravenna mosaic, the three Wise Men wear rich oriental clothing and are wearing Phrygian caps, in a clear allusion to the Mithraic cults, which had a powerful influence on Christianity. On the other hand, above their heads we read the names by which they will become known: Melchior, Gaspar and Baltasar.

The three characters represent the three ages of the human being (Melchior is old age, Gaspar is adulthood and Baltasar is youth). As a curiosity, it should be noted that in the Ravenna mosaic the latter is not yet represented as an African man.; This representation will not begin to be consolidated until well into the 15th century.

Mosaic of the Magi

4. Nativity, by Andrei Rublev

Little is known about this extraordinary 15th century Russian painter. Canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church in the 20th century, we know that he is a character who probably lived in the monastery of the Holy Trinity and Saint Sergius, about 70 km away. from Moscow. The earliest known work of his is the frescoes in the Kremlin’s Annunciation Cathedral, but probably his most famous work is the icon of the Trinity, where he represents the three divine identities seated at the table.

The tradition of icons has extraordinary weight in Slavic culture, heir to Byzantine culture. Although in the West the path of religious art acquired a much more naturalistic and emotional aspect, in Russia a more symbolic and intellectual type of representation continued to predominate until well into the 20th century, similar to the European Romanesque, which, by the way, was highly influenced by icons that came from the east.

Rublev’s Nativity icon presents very interesting iconography. At the top, the heavens open and the divine light in the form of a ray divides into three, an allusion to the Trinity. The center of the composition is occupied by the Virgin who, strangely, turns her back to the Child, as if she were still confused by everything that has happened.. On the other hand, Jesus is found in a manger-coffin characteristic of Orthodox iconography, which predicts his martyrdom, death and resurrection.

Nativity, by Andrei Rublev

5. Mystical Nativity, by Sandro Botticelli (National Gallery, London)

It is surely the most disturbing work of the Florentine painter; To understand it, we must properly place it in its context. Botticelli himself wrote in the upper margin of the painting that he painted it “at the end of the year 1500 during the conflicts in Italy.”. That is to say, the work was carried out during the French invasions of the peninsula that put the city of Florence in check.

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But beyond this, we must consider the deep symbolic meaning of the fabric. It is a very original Nativity, which moves away from the canons of the time, and which presents extraordinarily elongated and sinuous figures, of a much more “medieval” than Renaissance character. At the top, twelve angels dance in a circle holding hands; In the center, the stable guards the Holy Family, with a Saint Joseph who, apparently saddened, lets his face fall on his knees.

The most surprising thing about the painting is, however, the demons that rush into the abyss, at the bottom of the canvas. Above them, angels and humans kiss and embrace. The entire work is a messianic allegory that, according to many historians, is linked to the preachings of Friar Savonarola.which plunged Florence into a mystical madness that Botticelli seems to have caught.

Mystical Nativity, by Sandro Botticelli

6. Adoration of the Shepherds, by Leonardo da Vinci (Uffizi Gallery, Florence)

This early work by Leonardo is unfinished, but, for many, this is what gives it its special beauty. We have evidence of payments that da Vinci received from the monks of San Donato de Scopeto in the months of July and August 1481, which gives us a clue to a possible contract for the completion of a work. However, the artist’s departure to Milan interrupted the commission, which was not completed.

The composition, pyramidal in shape, is marked by the figures of the Virgin (which constitutes the upper vertex of the triangle), the Child and the Magi who, kneeling, worship the child and give him their gifts. The central scene, calm and tranquil, contrasts fiercely with the agitation that we perceive in the last shots, where soldiers on horseback stir in a tangle of shapes. Fascinating and disturbing at the same time are the ruins that are drawn in the distance, especially the staircase that leads nowhere, and that the French historian Pierre Francastel (1900-1970) defines as the path to Paradise..

Adoration of the Shepherds, by Leonardo da Vinci