BARTOLO DI FREDI
(b. ca. 1330, Siena, d. ca. 1410, Siena)
Nativity and Adoration of the Shepherdsc. 1383
Tempera and gold on wood, 50 x 35 cm
This small panel was one of a polyptych from the life of the Virgin. It was a commission granted to Bartolo di Fredi by the Company of Saint Peter on May 9, 1585, for the Chapel of the Annunciation in the Church of S. Francesco in Montalcino, where the artist had already painted other works. The polyptych has since been broken up, and parts of it can be seen in various museums.
This panel depicts the Nativity and the Adoration of the Shepherds as well as an occasion that took place before these events, when an angel announced the divine birth to the shepherds.
The Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph are in a cave with the swaddled infant lying in a manger. Behind the Madonna are an ox and an ass, and the shepherds kneel in the front. On the right side, on a much smaller scale, is the angel's annunciation to the shepherds. One shepherd covers his face with one hand, thus showing his surprise and fear, whereas the other hand is holding a bagpipe, an obvious reference to pagan bucolic scenes. The angel bringing the news is holding an olive branch, the symbol of peace and celebration. In the upper portion of the painting, angels have emerged halfway out of a cloud and form a semicircle; they are in the act of singing.
As a sign of devotion, the Virgin Mary is represented in a larger scale than the other figures; above the infant are a dove and a star, which serve to illuminate him almost as if they formed the symbolical representation of the Trinity.