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The Adoration of the Magi (1423) by Gentile da Fabriano. The work is housed in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.

Appreciating the Best Nativity Paintings of the Renaissance

With Christmas right around the corner, what better time than to remember the birth of Christ represented in the paintings of the Italian Renaissance. The theme of the Nativity and the related narration of the Adoration of the Shepherds, was a favored topic of Renaissance patrons and painters, useful year-round and in just about any religious or domestic context. You can see the development of styles from the earliest by Bartolo di Fredi near the end of the 14th century, to the beauty and subtlety of the mid-17th century work by Maratta.

Gentile da Fabriano (c. 1370 – 1427) was most famous for his Adoration of the Magi painted in the International Gothic painter style. Contrast that to the Adoration of the Shepherds completed by Domenico Ghirlandaio in 1485. This painting was so successful as a composition that other artists frequently repeated it. Ghirlandaio himself appears in the scene dressed as a shepherd. The artist, who is leading the shepherds, is kneeling and bringing the miracle of the birth of Christ to the attention of both the shepherds and the observers of the picture.

We also feature a beautiful work by Masaccio, who died at such a young age in the early 15th century, we can only guess at the influence he may have had on later masters, had he lived beyond his 27 years. Finally, a fresco by Fra Angelico is included. This mid-15th century piece still graces the walls of the convent in San Marco.