The Nativity with Donors and Saints Jerome and Leonard, ca. 1510–15
Gerard David (ca. 1455–1523)
Oil on canvas transferred from wood
The depiction of the forest scene on the exterior wings of this triptych, exhibited at the left, was meant to encourage contemporary viewers to empathize with the Virgin and Joseph and to journey with them to Christ’s birthplace. The notion of a journey is underscored here by the appearance of Joseph, who wears traveler’s garb—a short robe, long hose, and soft boots—and carries a walking stick. The treatment of the Nativity scene is otherwise conventional: the symbolic content emphasizes the purpose of the Incarnation—that is, Christ’s sacrifice for the redemption of humankind.
The details surrounding the commission of this sumptuous altarpiece are unknown, and the kneeling donors have not been identified; they may have been a Catherine and an Anthony, for they appear in the guise of the saints of these names, along with Saints Jerome and Leonard.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a nice Christmas Special on their website with great pictures of early paintings with the nativity theme. On the site you can read or hear the Christmas story while examining the fantastic images.
Check it out here- The Christmas Story in Art. GL
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