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Piero della Francesca, The Nativity

Key facts
Full title The Nativity
Artist Piero della Francesca
Artist dates about 1415/20 - 1492
Date made 1470-5
Medium and support Oil on poplar
Dimensions 124.4 × 122.6 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1874
Inventory number NG908
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
The Nativity
Piero della Francesca

A ramshackle and ruined brick lean-to on top of an exposed rocky outcrop represents the stable in which Christ was born, emphasising the poverty and humility of his birth. The Virgin Mary has spread out her cloak to protect her newborn son’s skin from the bare earth, a pose inspired by the miraculous vision of Saint Bridget of Sweden (accounts of her experience were widely read in the fifteenth century).

Behind the Virgin are two shepherds, while Joseph, her husband, is seated on the donkey’s saddle. A group of angels playing lutes and singing provide a heavenly soundtrack to this otherwise rustic scene.

Piero made this picture for his family palace in his hometown of Sansepolcro. Once thought to be unfinished, it was, in fact, damaged by restoration before it entered the National Gallery’s collection.

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