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The Le Nain Brothers, 'The Adoration of the Shepherds', about 1640

Key facts
Full title The Adoration of the Shepherds
Artist The Le Nain Brothers
Artist dates Antoine (about 1600 - 48), Louis (about 1603 - 48), Mathieu (about 1607 - 77)
Date made about 1640
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 109.2 × 138.7 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1962
Inventory number NG6331
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
The Adoration of the Shepherds
The Le Nain Brothers

A group gathers around a manger to adore the newborn Christ. On the right, the Virgin Mary and Joseph gaze reverently at the infant, alongside two small angels. On the left are two young boys and an old, barefooted man: they are the shepherds mentioned in the Gospel of Luke (2: 8–20). This scene takes place in the ruins of a classical building rather than the stable described in the Bible, symbolising the decline of the old pagan world with the rise of Christianity.

We aren’t sure which of the three Le Nain brothers – Antoine, Louis and Mathieu – painted this picture, but it is one of the greatest produced by them. Made for private devotion in someone’s home, it combines refined elegance with carefully observed naturalistic detail: compare, for example, the beautiful, idealised Virgin with the older shepherd’s tattered clothes and dirty, wrinkled feet.

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