The Adoration of the Shepherds

The shepherds come to adore the new-born Jesus in the stable. New Testament (Luke 2: 8-14). In the background the angel announces the birth of Christ to them.

Poussin uses a long-established motif, and places the Nativity in a stable built into the ruins of a classical building. This motif appears in the National Gallery's earliest Botticelli, 'Adoration of the Kings', and Poussin's contemporaries the Le Nain brothers used it in their 'Adoration of the Shepherds' of about 1640. The ruins represent the collapse of the Old Dispensation, the law of the Old Testament, superseded by the New Dispensation, the kingdom of Christ. The figure of the kneeling shepherd derives from that of one of the magi in 'The Adoration of the Magi' by the studio of (Rome, Vatican Loggie).

Each figure shows a different stage in the bending motion of the human body.

Key facts

Artist dates
1594 - 1665
Full title
The Adoration of the Shepherds
Date made
about 1633-4
Medium and support
Oil on canvas
97.2 x 74 cm
Inscription summary
Acquisition credit
Bought with a special grant and contribution from the Art Fund, 1957
Inventory number
Location in Gallery