Luca Giordano, The Birth of the Virgin

Oil on canvas
Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, California

The iconography is for the most part quite traditional: St. Anne in bed in the background, the baby and midwives in the foreground, the washtub, the comfortable middle-class setting. What distinguishes the painting is its complex use of fictive light sources. Perhaps because of the position originally intended for this canvas, "natural" light flows in from the left and illuminates Joachim's back and the women at the tub. But the figures on the right of the tub are illuminated by spiritual light that flows in diagonally from Heaven. Significantly, the baby appears to be fully illuminated even though Joachim and the woman with the blanket block those two light sources.

The cloud of putti in the upper right seems dictated merely by the taste ot the perioud; it has little relationship to the rest of the composition.

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Read more about images of the birth of Mary.

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