Joseph stands behind the Virgin. Two shepherds kneel before the crib, hands raised in gestures of prayer and amazement. Behind, two women hold up a small child so that it can see Jesus. In the shadows on the right stand a group of five other figures, among them a boy with a dog. New Testament (Luke 2: 16).
The popular subject is expressed as a quiet, almost domestic scene. This effect is enhanced by the inclusion of women and children amongst the bystanders. Small pockets of light give an impression of intimacy. However, the light coming from the Christ Child is far more powerful than the light from the lantern and thus draws our attention to him as 'the Light of the World', the future Saviour, at the centre of this scene.
Although the level of light is low, it is possible to make out a number of details, secondary figures and subplots, which add interest to the scene, such as the boy playing with the dog on the right, and the cross formed by the beams in the rafters.
Rembrandt painted a series of scenes from the life of Christ for the Stadholder of the Dutch Republic, Prince Frederik Hendrik of Orange (1587 - 1647), and this painting is based on 'The Adoration of the Shepherds' from that series (now Munich, Alte Pinakothek). It was probably painted by a student of Rembrandt, who may have been inspired by the original while it was still in the studio.