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The Nativity
Girolamo Romanino
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This is the central panel of Romanino’s high altarpiece for S. Alessandro in Brescia. The high altar was the responsibility of the Confraternity of Corpus Christi – a lay brotherhood which venerated the body of Christ – so this depiction of Christ was of central importance. It would have been placed directly above the tabernacle in which the Eucharist was kept.

The church was dedicated to Saint Alexander, whose relics were kept there, and to the Virgin Mary, mother of God, so she also has a prominent position. Her mantle is embroidered with gold fleur-de-lis ornaments, the symbol of Saint Alexander.

Mary and her husband Joseph kneel in adoration before the infant Christ. The scene is watched by the ox and donkey and by a throng of rejoicing baby angels. Two of them hold an inscribed scroll, suggesting the annunciation of Christ’s birth to the shepherds, who appear in the middle distance among their sheep.

Key facts
Artist Girolamo Romanino
Artist dates about 1484 - about 1560
Full title The Nativity
Group High Altarpiece, S. Alessandro, Brescia
Date made about 1524
Medium and support Oil on wood
Dimensions 265 x 117.2 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1857
Inventory number NG297.1
Location in Gallery Room 2
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High Altarpiece, S. Alessandro, Brescia

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Romanino made this painting for the high altar of Sant' Alessandro in Brescia. It may have been commissioned by the Confraternity of Corpus Christi – a lay brotherhood which venerated the body of Christ – who were responsible for the high altar.

The central panel shows the Nativity, with Mary and Joseph kneeling before the infant Christ. On either side, panels depict Saint Alexander (lower left) and Saint Jerome (lower right). Above them are Saint Gaudioso (upper left) and Saint Filippo Benizzi (upper right.)

The painting originally had a crowning panel of the dead Saviour supported by the Virgin and Saint John. It also had large canvas shutters to protect it – The Annunciation was painted on the outside of the shutters, and on the inside was The Adoration of the Magi. The elaborate frame of the altarpiece, made by the woodcarver Stefano Lamberti, which would have formed a fundamental part of it, is now missing.

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