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Giovanni di Paolo, The Nativity (c. 1455-1460)

For Artwork in Focus we explore individual artworks, critiquing their style and discussing their socio-political context. Today we look at The Nativity (c. 1455-1460) by Giovanni di Paolo.

About the Work

Title : The Nativity
Artist : Giovanni di Paolo
Year : c. 1455-1460
Medium : Tempera on panel
Dimensions : sight: 26 x 23.5 cm (10 1/4 x 9 1/4 in.)
Location : Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The Nativity

Depictions of the nativity – the birth of Jesus Christ in a manger in Bethlehem – were common in Europe in the 13th – 16th centuries, when the catholic church contributed largely towards supporting the arts through patronage.

As was typical of this time, in his depiction di Paolo uses certain symbology to emphasis the religious and spiritual connotations of the work. The best example in this work being his use of halos over the heads of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. The work was part of a larger altarpiece.

According to the digital catalogue of the Harvard Art Museums :

“The delicacy in the handling of paint and attention to detail show Giovanni di Paolo’s talents as a painter of illuminated manuscripts, in addition to large-scale works. The artist reveals the poetry of the scene through such gestures as the Virgin’s flowing mantel, which spills onto the ground to form a blanket for the Christ child, Joseph’s resigned expression, and the peaceful harmony of the ox and the ass…”

Other Details

Giovanni di Paolo’s The Nativity is housed in the Harvard Art Museums in Room 2500. It is part of the museum’s collection of European Art, 13th–16th century – Art and Image in Europe.

To learn more about iconic artworks and their socio-political context, visit Artwork in Focus.

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