Master Radovan, The Nativity

Mid-13th century
Relief
West tympanum, Cathedral of St. Lawrence, Trogir, Croatia

On the left frolicsome sheep are tended by two shepherds in hats. Above and to the right of them two other shepherds (with different coifs and facial hair) are told by the angel to go to Bethlehem. On the left of the main lower scene, a quite different shepherd, labeled PASTOR, sits and watches the midwives bathe the Christ Child. As does Joseph, who sits beside the shepherd and is labeled IOSEPH. The naked Christ Child is disproportionately large and exhibits the usual childish reaction to the prospect of being bathed. Instead of a cruciform halo, the sculptor has put a cross behind his head.

The inscription on the bathing tub reads, [M]ERGITUR IN CONCA DILVIT QUI SCELERA CUNCTA, a rhyming phrase that means, "he is immersed in the tub who washes away all sin." Above this register an inscription reads ☩ INSTITIS INVOLVIT VIRGO QUI CRIMINA SOLVIT, another rhyming phrase: "The virgin wraps in swaddling clothes him who sets free from judgment."

On the right, the first two of the Magi following the star are labeled guaspar and baltassar.

In the main upper register Mary reclines in bed below the crib where the child lies with a blissful expression on his face. The tongues of the ox and ass are visible as they appear to munch on their Lord.

Several features of this work are thought to have been inspired by medieval Nativity plays (Goss, 127). The elegant lettering style in the inscriptions is based on "Lombardic," a book hand that was used in eastern and southern Italy from the 9th century until the end of the 13th (Marcos, 28).

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More of the Nativity

Source:
Photographed at the site by Richard Stracke, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.