The Nativity

Mid-15th century
Limestone relief with later polychromy and gilding
Burgundy
Metropolitan Museum of Art, 16.32.158, Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan

In the upper section of the building the ass eats hay while the ox nibbles at the baby's fingers, possibly a Eucharistic allusion, while the angels on the left look on. On the right, the shepherds look on joyfully but St. Joseph turns away and tends to the fire.

The disposition of the figures of Mary and the baby mark a transition in the iconography in the 15th century. In older images Mary lies in a space below and separate from that of the Christ Child, who is in the manger attended by the ox and ass. In the newer model, inspired by the writings of St. Bridget of Sweden, the child lies on the floor and Mary kneels before him in adoration. In this transitional work the baby is still with the animals in a separate space above, but Mary kneels below and prays to him by looking up.

More of the Nativity

Photographed at the Metropolitan by Richard Stracke, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.