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Nativity scene with St-Lawrence and St-Francis of Assisi by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, painted in 1609, the year before the painters death at Porto Ercole under unexplained circumstances. This large canvas was stolen by the Mafia in October 1969 and never seen again. It was in a Church in Palermo. 

What is wonderful about Caravaggio’s paintings is the use of ordinary citizens, street people as models in his compositions. It was at the time a revolution in art never attempted before. Many painters of his time and afterwards will imitate this style of painting and the light and dark effects (called Chiaro-Oscuro)

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Peter Paul Rubens, Nativity, 1634, see the similarity with Caravaggio, thought Rubens paints for the Spanish Governor General of the Netherlands and has a more Noble approach, suitable for his Spanish patrons. The Virgin could be a Lady of the Court, the theatrical aspect also of the putti carrying a banner of proclamation look mischievous . St-Joseph is almost out of the picture behind the Virgin. Rubens liked to paint his subject in fleshy tones that emphasize the voluptuous, curvaceous aspect of the human body, Rubenesque.

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Adoration of the Shepherds by Caravaggio, painted in 1609, this painting is in the Museum of Messina. Again none of the subjects in this painting are Nobles, Caravaggio represents them as simple, ordinary people. His paintings intrigue his patrons, the Pope, Cardinals and Nobles who paid little attention to the people in the street. 

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Nativity scene by Rembrandt Van Rijn. Again the influence of Caravaggio can be seen in this painting, the play on light and darkness. The light shining on the baby is not from the torch being held up but from an unknown almost supernatural source.

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 Rembrandt van Rijn,Simeon and Anna recognize Jesus. I love the way Simeon holds the baby while speaking with Mary and Anna expresses surprise. The Virgin Mary looks bemused, according to tradition she would have been 12 or 13 at the time and St-Joseph is almost forgotten outside the picture, some uncharitable soul could call him the cuckhold in this scene.

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Paul Gaugin, post-impressionist Nativité, 1896. In his Tahitian style so foreign at the time to anything seen in Europe. The birth of the Saviour is shown with ordinary familiarity, Mary a young Tahitian women lying on the bed after labour, baby held by a wet nurse or Anna? We do not know. The man next to her, St-Joseph again in the background. There is also a white cat at the foot of the Virgin an unusual animal in such a scene. 

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In the Pre-Raphaelite school, Edward Burne-Jones, Nativity, 1888. This art movement used for its inspiration a return to the early days of the Renaissance before Raphael (1483-1520) I would say almost Giotto like in style but with lots of romanticism and classicism, look at the folds of the sheet on the bed of hay, the formal posture of the sexless messenger angels and a St-Joseph reading the Torah perhaps or just a newspaper birth notices. The sky is also golden bronze in colour again reminding us of antiquity, Homer uses that description of the sky in his poetry. All symbolism the Victorians loved.  

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Gustav Klimt, Nativity 1905, Secessionist movement. This art movement cuts itself off from the formal academic style of the time bringing in a modernity to the subject matter. 

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Filippo Lippi, Nativity, 1437. Italian Renaissance. Lippi was a highly educated man and we see this here in his painting with geometrical forms and perspective. Lippe was a Friar and he also follows the convention set by the Catholic Church, see the Cloak of the Virgin, symbol of protection how it extends to the baby. At the same time the Virgin is in adoration towards her baby who she knows is the Son of God. St-Joseph is asleep or in a pensive dream like mode? The one where the Angel warns him to flee to Egypt.

 

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