10 Famous Nativity Scene Paintings

Artwork has found for its medium an interesting concept: the Nativity Scene. A Nativity Scene, which is basically a picture of Christ being born of humble beginnings, has been made now for literally centuries from Italian, Dutch, Spanish, and German artists. These artists have all added their own contributions to this wonderful story of the birth of the most important Figure in Christendom. Many of these nativity scenes have everything from Joseph and Mary and the Three Wise Men. These works of art are worthy of study. With that being said, here is a list of the world’s most well-known nativity scene paintings:

Nativity at Night1. The Nativity at Night – Geertgen tot Sint Jans
Flemish artist Geertgen tot Sint Jans painted this piece in the 1480’s. Much like Sint Jans’ other works, this piece is famous for Sint Jans’ uncanny ability to be able to portray the innocence and wonder of the characters depicted in his paintings. One of the first places where this ability is recognized in this piece would be in the wonder upon the face of Mary upon gazing upon her infant Son, the Christ who would become the Savior the World. This ability by Sint Jans to capture emotion has endured him to many even many centuries later.


Piero della Francesca - Nativity2. The Nativity – by Pierro Della Francesca
Painted in stark gray and dark hues, this unfinished work from 1475-1480 gives an air of a stark and unsettling psychological atmosphere. Mother Mary is pictured in silent adoration to the child yet she does not do more than simply worship the child. Indeed, there are no attempts to embrace the Christ child at all. There is an array of individuals present for the event, including several youngsters playing instruments. The three wise men are present and appear to be in a rather heated discussion. St. Joseph is nowhere to be found in this piece at all. The unsettling colors and shades were perhaps meant to be a precursor to the incredibly difficult life that the Christ would have in his adult ministry.

The Mystical Nativity3. Mystic Nativity – by Sandro Botticelli
Mystic Nativity by Sandro Botticelli was made just after the execution of a reformed preacher named Gerolamo Savonarola in 1497. Botticelli chose to depict Joseph and Mary as towering figures over the Three Wise Men, and there is also some activity announcing the “defeat of the Antichrist” in the background. Meanwhile, the angels are dancing within the air in a wonderful depiction of God and sinner reconciled. Many individuals have noted how there seems to be a mixture of love, joy, peace, fear, and anger in this eclectic version of the Nativity.


Adoration of Shepards4. The Adoration of the Shepherds – By Antonio de Correggio
Also known as La Notte (“The Night”) since the 17th Century, this work was completed in 1530 and remains Antonio de Correggio’s most influential artwork. This piece once again presents a mixture of emotions and eclectic activities. The viewer of this piece sees the adoration of Mary and Joseph comically struggling with the donkeys in the background. Up top there is a immense crowd of angels gathered together and the divine light of the Christ child magnified the serene joy upon the face of mother Mary.

The Census at Bethlehem5. The Census at Bethlehem – by Pieter Brueghel the Elder
Brueghel the Elder was a Flemish artist and with this piece he decided to set in contemporary Flanders. Completed in 1566, this piece was depicted with Flemish scenery yet there is also the obvious depiction of Joseph and a very-pregnant Mary partaking in the Bethlehem census.


The Nativity - Jacopo Tintoretto6. The Nativity – by Jacopo Tintoretto

Once again a sublime work, Tintoretto presents the Nativity story with a dilapidated barn with a missing roof. Joseph and Mary are seen in the hayloft along with several midwives. Tintoretto presents some stark imagery including his use of light and color. He attempts to present the spiritual significance of the event and by his depiction of the barn we get a strong picture of the humble beginnings of the Christ child.

Adoration of Shepards - El Greco7. The Adoration of the Shepherds – by El Greco
The Adoration of the Shepherds was more of a personal work by El Greco, and it was finished around 1614. This work was meant to be personal for El Greco, and according to his assistant he literally painted this piece until his death. The work features the Virgin, St. Joseph, and the Wise Men all tilted toward the viewer. There is an explosive dissonance of color that is common to many of El Greco’s works. The figures of the Virgin, St. Joseph, the Wise Men, and the Angels all have exaggerated and elongated poses that is again common to El Greco’s work. Like any other personal work of art, El Greco depicts himself within the painting as an elderly and humble shepherd meekly asking for forgiveness of his sins before the Virgin and the Christ Child. El Greco strongly desired that this work hang over his tomb upon his passing.

Rubens-Adoration of the Magi8. The Adoration of the Magi – by Peter Paul Rubens
A work completed in about 1624, the Adoration of the Magi was a work that focused on the Nativity from the perspective of the Magi. The viewer of this piece can see the Virgin, St. Joseph, and Baby Jesus as only secondary components of the portraiture. The Three Wise Men are intensely on display and they all do acts of adoration for the young Christ Child. One kisses his tiny foot. Another kneels before the baby to present his gift of gold. The others present their gifts of frankincense and myrrh. They all gaze with rapturous delight at the new Messiah of the world.

Addoration of the Magi - Monaco9. Adoration of the Magi – by Lorenzo Monaco
This work was completed in 1422 by Lorenzo Monaco and features a gilded background, which was a common medium for many of Monaco’s works. Monaco not only depicted the Magi themselves but he also presented a procession of followers that the Magi had as well. There were a variety of ethnicities presented from Moorish individuals to those of the Tartar background. The Madonna (Virgin) was depicted wearing a garment with three stars upon it, which was a symbol of purity at the time.


10. The Nativity – by Edward Kienholz
This is not a painting per se but this is a great example of a contemporary contribution. This piece was done with a medium of fiberglass, painted wood, glass, jewelry and cloth. Baby Jesus is depicted as a flashing light as seen on many street displays today. Interestingly enough, this Nativity scene was meant to embody a sculpture of an entire church, but the sculptor abandoned the idea after another artist was found to be already using a part of his medium. This work was completed in the early 1960’s.


11. The Nativity – by You
Make your own great Nativity Scene Painting….