(b. 1484/85, Schwabisch-Gmünd, d. 1545, Strassburg)


Oil on wood, 105,5 x 70,4 cm
Alte Pinakothek, Munich

An idyllic representation of the frequently painted subject from one of the most peculiar German Renaissance artists.

By electing to portray the main figures simply and quietly at the back of the stable, Baldung draws the eye first to the ruined architecture and the ox and ass seen in larger scale on the left. His construction of the interior embraces the opposite poles of precise foreshortening - as in the incisively drawn plynth in the foreground - and perspective uncertainty, something heightened by the differences in scale between animals and the figures. Viewer irritation and Mannerist alienation are quite clearly not the artist's aims, however.

With the help of painted light, whose source seems to lie beyond the natural world, Baldung portrays the miracle of the Holy Night with what is for him an unusual depth of feeling. The infant Jesus, held in his swaddling bands by putti, seems to radiate light onto Joseph's red coat and Mary's hands and face. Through the brick archway in the cracked, plastered wall, we glimpse a second miraculous vision: an angel encircled by a radiant glory is appearing to a shepherd watching his flock. The fusion of light and shade and the soft modulation of the contours suggest that Baldung may have come into contact with the Danube School.

Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 2 minutes):
Michael Praetorius: Motet