by A Kladov

Art trends in Europe and the Western World have a powerful connection to Christianity. Since the time of the Italian Renaissance, artists have painted about Christmas. It is celebrated in late December.

Of course, some ways of celebrating Christmas have changed a lot. However, the main ideas behind this feast are still the same.

The birth of Jesus is a vital part of Christmas. Jesus’s birth has been shown in many paintings, movies, and statues. Usually, it features Saint Mary and Joseph. 

In this article, we’ll have a close look at well-known paintings of Jesus's birth and the artists who made them.

Top Famous Nativity Paintings

1. Caravaggio's Nativity with St. Francis, St. Lawrence and St. Francis

Caravaggio's Nativity with St. Francis, St. Lawrence and St. Francis

Caravaggio's Nativity With St. Francis, St. Lawrence And St. Francis

Caravaggio was a big deal in Europe during the 17th century. It was the Baroque time. His artworks often showed a big difference between dark and light. Some people say it can mean good and bad. He made many paintings about religion. One of his pictures is about Jesus's birth.

He finished this artwork in 1600 when he was really famous. It is titled Nativity With St. Francis And St. Lawrence.

The painting features Caravaggio’s characteristic contrast of light and darkness, along with two prominent religious figures in the Catholic Church at the time it was painted.

In 1969, the painting was stolen from the Oratory of Saint Lawrence in Palermo, Italy. The Sicilian Mafia is suspected by authorities who have investigated this matter. However, the painting has never been recovered.

2. Portinari Altarpiece - Hugo van der Goes

Portinari Altarpiece - Hugo van der Goes

Portinari Altarpiece - Hugo Van Der Goes

Hugo van der Goes is a famous Dutch painter. He pictured religious scenes in the Bible and was a master at capturing such scenes. Since the 15th century, many of his most famous paintings have graced the altarpieces of churches in Europe.

Van der Goes, in 1476, created a work depicting the Christian Nativity Scene that was meant to serve as an altarpiece.

Portinari Altarpiece is one of Van der Goes' most outstanding pictures. The painter depicted prominent religious figures of that period. On top of that, he painted a lot of the Biblical characters. The style of the painting resembles paintings made by the artists of the early Renaissance.

3. The Mystical Nativity by Sandro Botticelli

The Mystical Nativity by Sandro Botticelli

The Mystical Nativity By Sandro Botticelli

Sandro Botticelli was one of the famous Italian artists who marked the beginning of the Italian Renaissance. However, during his life, people didn’t recognize his talent. He wasn’t famous when he was alive. In the 1800s, art historians started to notice and recognize his paintings.

The Mystical Nativity is one of his most amazing paintings. This painting was created in 1501. It features three parts. It was normal to do such 3-piece pictures at that time.

The middle part of the painting shows the birth of Jesus. It also depicts angels and bright lights above them.

At the bottom of the picture, there are also angels. You can also see a picture of baby Jesus with Mary and Joseph in a cave. This scene reminds people of the Bible story where Jesus was born in a simple place.

4. The Adoration of the Kings by Jan Gossaert

The Adoration of the Kings by Jan Gossaert

The Adoration Of The Kings By Jan Gossaert

Jan Gossaert was from the Netherlands. He visited Italy during the Renaissance to learn more. Gossaert was known for painting in detail. You can see this in his famous painting from 1515.

People used to think this painting, called The Adoration of the Kings, was done by a different artist named Albrecht Durer.

Recently, art experts began looking at this painting more closely. They think Durer and Gossaert might have painted it together.

Art historians have claimed that Gossaert painted the entire Nativity scene. This is because the shadows and brushwork are a lot like his. The Gossaert’s signature is one of these shepherds’  cloak collars. You can find it if you look closely.

5. The Nativity - Piero della Francesca

The Nativity - Piero della Francesca

The Nativity - Piero Della Francesca

Piero della Francesca is credited with one of the most unique Nativity scenes described in the Bible.

The artist, born in Tuscany, would influence the early Italian Renaissance by producing a number of works with bright and colorful depictions and settings of biblical stories.

The Nativity is one of his most famous works. It was painted in 1475 when the Renaissance began taking hold across Italy.

This Nativity scene depiction is much brighter and more colorful than the majority of others that show Christ the infant in a dark, isolated manger.

In Piero della Francesca’s version of the Nativity story, the biblical figures are re-staged in a Tuscan setting. The artist has also incorporated Tuscan cultural elements into his work to give it a unique twist.

6. The Nativity with Prophets Isaiah & Ezekiel – Duccio di Buoninsegna

The Nativity with Prophets Isaiah & Ezekiel – Duccio di Buoninsegna

The Nativity With Prophets Isaiah & Ezekiel – Duccio Di Buoninsegna

Duccio di Buoninsegna painted his famous triptych of the Nativity Scene on wooden panels. Di Buoninsegna is renowned for some of the oldest religious paintings. He was born in the late 13th or 14th century. His paintings influenced the Italian Renaissance.

The Nativity with Prophets Isaiah & Ezekiel by the artist is one of the most famous representations of Jesus' birth scene.

This is one of the first known depictions of the story, and it features the gold leaf decoration characteristic of di Buoninsegna.

It also includes a number of Biblical figures that you would expect to see in a Nativity Painting, as well as many angelic figures and religious figures from the time.

7. Adoration of the Shepherds (Giorgione)

Adoration of the Shepherds (Giorgione)

Adoration Of The Shepherds (Giorgione)

Giorgione remains one of the most mysterious figures of the Italian Renaissance, as very few of his works have survived to this day. Many art historians believe that only six works can be truly attributed to the artist of the early Renaissance years.

His most famous work is the Nativity scene, which features the shepherds who came to see the baby Jesus. Adoration Of The Shepherds is the name of this work, which is thought to have been finished in 1510.

This painting is different from other Nativity paintings in that it shows the baby Jesus, Virgin Mary, and Joseph kneeling before a dark cave while a lush, colorful landscape and the Shepherds fill the left side.

8. Nativity, Birth Of Jesus - Giotto

Nativity, Birth Of Jesus - Giott

Nativity, Birth Of Jesus - Giott

Giotto is another very early artist who created a Nativity scene. He lived in the late 13th to early 14th centuries. This fresco was painted around 1304 or 1306 and is one of the earliest works depicting the Nativity scene.

The painting is called Nativity Birth of Jesus. It features an elegant, simple scene with the baby Jesus at its center.

Above, we can see a group of angels celebrating Messiah's birth, while Joseph and the shepherds are shown next to the mother, child, and some livestock.

9. Geertgen Tot Sint Jans - The Nativity At Night

Geertgen Tot Sint Jans - The Nativity At Night

Geertgen Tot Sint Jans - The Nativity At Night

Geertgen Tot Sint Jans, a Dutch artist who was well-known during the Italian Renaissance period, is credited with creating some of the most famous works in the genre.

Many of his most famous works portray religious scenes from Biblical tales and daily events happening around Italy in his lifetime.

The Nativity At Night is one of the most famous paintings by the artist. It is believed that the work was completed in the latter part of his life and is one the few Nativity paintings painted under cover of night.

The baby Jesus is shown in the painting, illuminating Mary, the young virgin, as she embraces her child. Joseph and the Shepherds are also painted with light from the baby Christ.

The canvas is mostly dark. However, a figure in the upper right corner is clearly an angelic being gazing downward at the child.

10. Paul Gauguin - Te tamari no atua - The Birth of Christ

Paul Gauguin - Te tamari no atua - The Birth of Christ

Paul Gauguin - Te Tamari No Atua - The Birth Of Christ

Paul Gauguin was a famous impressionist painter. He spent most of his life on the French Polynesian Islands, where he painted many of his iconic works.

In 1890, Gauguin visited the island of Tahiti to inspire his creativity and to capture the lush and rich beauty of the island that was rumored by many artworks at the time.

Te tamari No Atua is the name of one of his most famous Christmas paintings or Nativity. It means the Birth of Christ in Polynesian.

This is a unique portrayal of the famous Biblical story, as it shows native Polynesian people instead of the usual depiction of these figures as Hebrews or Europeans.