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The Complex Meaning Behind One of Christmas’s Most Enduring Symbols


OC.Net Guru
Aug 31, 2010
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One of the most recognizable scenes of Christian art, the Nativity may be surpassed in popularity only by the Crucifixion, its historical counterpoint. Nativity scenes recount the birth of Christ and his adoration, which is narrated tersely in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew. For centuries, the centrality of the subject for the Christian religion meant that it attracted the wealthiest patrons and most acclaimed artists. Many examples of the scene are deemed masterpieces of art in their own right—Duccio’s Nativity with the Prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel (1308/1311), for example, or Domenico Ghirlandaio’s Nativity and Adoration to the Shepherds (1485)—and emblematic of major artistic movements and innovations. Below, we highlight this enduring symbol’s key developments over the last 1,700 years.