(b. ca. 1490, Correggio, d. 1534, Correggio)

Nativity (Holy Night)

Oil on canvas, 256,5 x 188 cm
Gemäldegalerie, Dresden

The painting was commissioned in October 1522 and completed at the end of the decade. It has been described as the first monumental nocturnal scene in European painting, and it is an ideal companion to the Madonna with St Jerome, also known as The Day, painted only a few years earlier for another private chapel.

The artist, following the trail blazed by a number of celebrated works by Titian, interprets a scene that is fully 'à la chandell' and produces an outstanding result. The light appears simultaneously to bathe and to emerge from the Child, who is lying on a rough pallet, only to soften on the face of the Virgin, tenderly rapt in a maternal embrace. They are surrounded by the fluid gestures of the shepherds and of St Joseph, who is holding back the donkey, and by the kicking legs of the angels transported by the cloud that spreads hazily through the picture.

Although attenuated by the dim nocturnal light that tones down all the shades, the painting is not lacking in color and the chiaroscuro spreads over and softens every form, bringing out their rotundities and caressing those leaves that are reminiscent of Leonardo and Veneto-Ferrarese painting. It is a picture that points the way toward the future Lombard investigation of luministic effects, and was used as a model by such painters as Procaccini, Reni, and Domenichino, and even later on, by Barocci and Maratta.

Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 16 minutes):
Arcangelo Corelli: Concerto grosso in g minor op. 6 No. 8 (Christmas Concerto)