Nativity

The birth of Christ is described in the Bible by the four evangelists. According to Luke, Joseph, a carpenter, and his wife Mary, at the time heavy with child, travelled from Galilee to Joseph’s native Bethlehem to take part in a Roman census. Because there was no place for them at the inn, the couple spent the night in a stable. Mary gave birth to a son, whom she called Jesus, and laid him in a manger. Shepherds in the field and three wise men from the East came to honour the child.

Scenes of this story in art follow this description, supplemented with details from other accounts. For example, the oft-depicted ox and ass come from a text by the Prophet Isaiah. In early medieval paintings, Mary lies on a bed with Jesus in a crib beside her, while Joseph sits apart from them. Nativity scenes were influenced by the vision of Saint Bridget from the 15th century. In it, the Christ Child lies on the ground with Mary and Joseph kneeling in adoration by his side.

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