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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 early 1480s
Medium and support Oil on poplar
Dimensions 124.4 × 122.6 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1874
Inventory number NG908
Location Gallery C
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
The Nativity
Piero della Francesca

Virgin kneels in adoration of her new-born son before a ramshackle shed, emphasising Christ’s humble birth. She is accompanied by her husband Joseph and two shepherds, one of whom points to the divine light falling on the shed’s stone wall through a hole in its roof. Music-making angels provide a heavenly soundtrack to this otherwise rustic scene.

Piero della Francesca depicted Christ’s Nativity materialising as a mystical vision, basing the details of his composition on a famous account by Saint Bridget of Sweden (about 1303–1373). By setting Saint Bridget’s vision within a familiar Tuscan landscape, the artist brought the extraordinary circumstances of Christ’s birth directly into his own world.

Piero painted The Nativity for his family palace in Borgo San Sepolcro where it remained until 1825, initially hung in the principal bedchamber. While still in the family, parts of the paint surface were badly damaged by overcleaning, causing some to believe that the painting was unfinished. Restoration and conservation treatment, completed in 2022, enhanced its legibility, recovering much of Piero’s original intention.

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