Nativity in the Italian Renaissance

On this Christmas night, I wanted to show some colorful and detailed classic artwork from Italy’s renowned Renaissance period where advances in art, architecture, math and science helped Europe climb out of the muck of the Dark Ages.  Since the Roman Catholic Church was an integral part of the region’s daily life, it’s no surprise much of the art bore religious themes.  Here are 10 pieces of the Nativity, one of the most prominent subjects among Italian Renaissance artisans.

Fresco in San Marco, cell no. 5

Fresco in San Marco, cell no. 5

This is one of many frescoes in the friars’ cells in the convent of San Marco, dating to the early 1440s.  Historians disagree on the artist: Fra Angelico or Benozzo Gozzoli, with most believing the latter is responsible, based on the frescoes’ more decorative aspects and thicker applications of paint characteristic of Gozzoli.

Bartolo di Fredi, “Nativity and Adoration of the Shepherds,” Vatican Museums, 1383.

Bartolo di Fredi, “Nativity and Adoration of the Shepherds,” Vatican Museums, 1383.

Bartolo di Fredi was commissioned to paint this panel by the Company of Saint Peter in 1383, for the Chapel of the Annunciation in the Church of S. Francesco in Montalcino.  The polyptych has since been broken up, and parts of it can be seen in various museums.  This piece is in the Pinacoteca Vaticana.

Sandro Botticelli, “The Mystical Nativity,” National Gallery of London.

Sandro Botticelli, “The Mystical Nativity,” National Gallery of London.

Sandro Botticelli

Duccio, Nativity panel, ca. 1308, National Gallery of Art – Washington, D.C.

Duccio, Nativity panel, ca. 1308, National Gallery of Art – Washington, D.C.

Duccio

Francesco di Giorgio Martini, 1475, Pinacoteca Nazionale – Siena.

Francesco di Giorgio Martini, 1475, Pinacoteca Nazionale – Siena.

The Nativity with two angels, St. Bernard and St. Thomas of Aquino, is the only signed work of the Francesco di Giorgio Martini.

Gentile da Fabriano, “Adoration of the Magi,” 1423, Galleria degli Uffizi – Florence.

Gentile da Fabriano, “Adoration of the Magi,” 1423, Galleria degli Uffizi – Florence.

Gentile da Fabriano

Domenico di Ghirlandaio, “Adoration of the Magi,” Ospedale degli Innocenti, 1488.

Domenico di Ghirlandaio, “Adoration of the Magi,” Ospedale degli Innocenti, 1488.

Domenico di Ghirlandaio

Masaccio, Birth salver depicting the nativity, with Florentine horn-blowers, ca. 1427, Staatliche Museen – Berlin.

Masaccio, Birth salver depicting the nativity, with Florentine horn-blowers, ca. 1427, Staatliche Museen – Berlin.

Birth trays like this wooden one from the first quarter of the 15th century were common objects in many medieval European households.  They were given to women often before or during pregnancy; their imagery was believed to encourage the healthy delivery of a baby boy.  Masaccio.

Lorenzo Monaco, “Adoration of the Magi,” 1422, Galleria degli Uffizi – Florence.

Lorenzo Monaco, “Adoration of the Magi,” 1422, Galleria degli Uffizi – Florence.

Lorenzo Monaco

Leonardo da Vinci, (unfinished) “Adoration,” 1481, Galleria degli Uffizi – Florence.

Leonardo da Vinci, (unfinished) “Adoration,” 1481, Galleria degli Uffizi – Florence.

The master of all master artisans, Leonardo da Vinci left some work unfinished, including this panel currently on display in the Uffizi.  Da Vinci developed his own theories about creating dramatic contrasts between various figures (e.g. young and old, female and male), like the strong triangle created by the central figures.  Although uncompleted, this panel also notes Da Vinci’s technique of working on a dark panel and building up first the shadows, then the color.

All images courtesy of Tuscany Arts.

2 Comments

Filed under Classics

2 responses to “Nativity in the Italian Renaissance

  1. Al

    These are really nice Alejandro. I hope you enjoy the remainder of 2013

  2. These are great examples, truly beautiful.

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