In front of classical ruins (symbolic of the old order, now superseded by Christianity) the shepherds, represented by the bare-footed old peasant kneeling prominently to the left with the ox and two boys behind, adore the Christ Child. The treatment of the Virgin and Saint Joseph, and of the ass silhouetted against the wall to the right, may have been influenced by the work of Orazio Gentileschi, a follower of Caravaggio who had worked in Paris.

The mood in the painting is one of unusual calm and stillness, focused upon the Christ Child lying on the straw.

Like a number of other paintings by the Le Nain brothers this one is painted over another composition. The head of the Virgin Mary in the earlier composition can be made out between those of Joseph and the boy shepherd.

Key facts

Artist
Artist dates
Antoine (about 1600 - 48), Louis (about 1603 - 48), Mathieu (about 1607 - 77)
Full title
The Adoration of the Shepherds
Date made
about 1640
Medium and support
Oil on canvas
Dimensions
109.2 x 138.7 cm
Acquisition credit
Bought, 1962
Inventory number
NG6331
Location in Gallery