Relief with the depiction of the Nativity
10th Tiberius Auction
Carved wood relief & original, closed polychromy
43 x 42 cm, with frame 51 x 50 cm
This square relief depicting the Nativity shows an aspect of Christ’s salvation history with many carefully added details. This pictorial theme was already depicted on ancient or early Christian sarcophagi and also enjoyed great popularity in the Middle Ages.
Mary, wrapped in a wide cloak with expansive, voluminous folds, sits with her hands clasped in front of her chest in front of the naked child Jesus, who is laid on a cloth. The mother is visually elevated by the stable architecture; the ox and donkey are resting in it, whereby the ox seems to be stretching its head up to the hay trough and eating; a playful moment in the otherwise devoutly solemn atmosphere. Three angels with large golden wings are gathered around the child who has just been born. Two of them look down on the saviour with clasped hands, while the third seems to be pulling at the cloth, possibly to make the child’s bed more comfortable. Around them the city walls are depicted with an open door like a “hortus conclusus”, i.e. a closed garden. A bearded male figure with tools attached to his belt is bending over the battlements of the wall; this is probably Joseph the carpenter, completing the Holy Family. In the background is a city veduta with fortified walls, in front of which shepherds are driving their sheep through a hilly and rocky landscape. The angel of the Lord approaches from the upper right, announcing the good news of the birth of Christ. One shepherd looks up at him, spellbound, while another seems to flee in shock of the sudden revelation.
The relief panel probably comes from the side wing of an altar retable, where it was integrated into the biblical cycle. The lush and complex folds suggest a date of origin around 1500. The surrounding angels are reminiscent of Albrecht Dürer’s woodcut from the Life of Mary with the same subject, which was created around 1503. A similar relief can also be found in the north aisle of St. Peter’s Cathedral in Worms from 1515.
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