UNKNOWN MASTER, Flemish
(active c 1400)
Tempera on wood, 33 x 21 cm
Museum Mayer van den Bergh, Antwerp
This small panel originally belonged to a polyptych which was probably conceived as a portable altarpiece or devotional painting, as it could be folded up to a size that would fit readily into a small box or leather pouch. Other panels from the polyptych representing St Christopher and the Resurrection are also in the same museum.
The iconography of St Joseph in the Nativity panel is unusual. What we find here is the story of 'Joseph's stockings'. Jesus' father sits at the bottom of the panel, cutting up one of his leggings. Certain Middle Dutch and German Christmas carols tell that the Christ Child was swaddled in cloth cut from this undergarment. Aachen Cathedral once owned a relic said to be 'Joseph's Stockings', which were the subject of intense veneration in around 1400. It is likely, therefore, therefore, that this little panel was produced in the Aachen area (or at least the region between the Meuse and Rhine), probably some time around 1400.