Francisco de Zurbarán
The Birth of the Virgin

Oil on canvas
Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, California

As usual, the scene is a bedroom in a comfortably middle-class home with plenty of servants. In earlier centuries artists had placed St. Anne in shadow and pictured her as rather old, but here she is a rosy-cheeked young woman whose customary vigor has not been entirely diminished by the recent parturition.

One traditional detail that is absent here is the tub for washing the baby. Non-traditional are the mushrooms, eggs, and broth that the women have brought to the mother. A basket of eggs also appears in Titian's Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple. As traditional symbols for purity and chastity, eggs are appropriate for a person whom the Church will call "blessed Mary ever virgin."1

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

1 Sill, Symbols, 130. Catechism of the Catholic Church, ¶499.