The Nativity

A work made of oil on panel.
CC0 Public Domain Designation

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  • A work made of oil on panel.




Fra Bartolommeo (Baccio della Porta)
Italian, 1472-1517

About this artwork

The young Baccio della Porta came under the spell of the charismatic Dominican friar Girolamo Savonarola, joining his monastic order as Fra (Friar) Bartolommeo in 1500 and forsaking his painting career for several years. Returning to painting in 1504, he looked to the most lyrical and harmonious recent works of Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, and Michelangelo to form his own style, which was characterized by a new, quiet spirituality. The palette of saturated blue, red, and green announces the Holy Family, while the muted tones of the angels’ garments establish an otherworldly presence. Here he treated the Nativity in a traditional, though especially intimate, manner. The Virgin kneels humbly as she gazes at the Christ Child, while Joseph assumes a pose of restrained wonderment, as if suddenly aware of the infant’s divine nature. The family shelters in a rustic stall erected within the ruins of an edifice understood to be the palace of David at Bethlehem. This juxtaposition of architecture symbolizes Christ’s establishment of his new church on the Old Testament order of the Jews. Reinforcing this device is a young tree springing from a remnant of ancient stones directly above the infant.

On View

European Painting and Sculpture, Gallery 205


Fra Bartolommeo


The Nativity






Oil on panel


34 × 24.5 cm (13 3/8 × 9 5/8 in.)

Credit Line

Ethel T. Scarborough Fund; John G. Searle Family Trust, L. L. and A. S. Coburn, Mr. and Mrs. Lester King, John and Josephine Louis, Samuel A. Marx, Alexander McKay, Chester D. Tripp, and Murray Vale endowment funds; restricted gift of Marilynn Alsdorf, Anne Searle Bent, David and Celia Hilliard, Alexandra and John Nichols, Mrs. Harold T. Martin, Mrs. George B. Young in memory of her husband, and the Rhoades Foundation; gift of John Bross and members of the Old Masters Society in memory of Louise Smith Bross; through prior gift of the George F. Harding, Mr. and Mrs. W. W. Kimball, Mr. and Mrs. Martin A. Ryerson, and Charles H. and Mary F. S. Worcester collections

Reference Number


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