Fra Carnevale (Bartolomeo di Giovanni Corradini), Birth of the Virgin

Tempera and oil on wood
Metropolitan Museum of Art, accession #35.121

This highly unusual treatment of the traditional subject of Mary's birth puts the essential characters in the story well behind groups of contemporary women going about their business unawares. In a coolly rendered classical structure partly like a palazzo and partly like a temple, the midwives bathe a tiny Mary while in the far background servants attend to Mary's mother Anne, who lies naked except for the bedclothes (see the detail below). High above in the clerestory level are classical reliefs that seem as unrelated to the event below as the travelers in the distance on the left.

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

Detail of the washing of the child, with the recumbent mother in the background