VOS, Marten de
(b. 1532, Antwerpen, d. 1603, Antwerpen)
Oil on panel, 106 x 75 cm
O.-L. Vrouwekathedraal, Antwerp
Three little angels kneel with Mary and Joseph in worship of the newborn Child. The ox and the ass stand behind them. Other angels in the distance announce the birth of Christ to a group of shepherds. The ruin behind Joseph symbolises the defeat of paganism by the coming of the Saviour. The artist has made the symbolism even plainer by including a relief in the classical ruin - a recumbent female nude, possibly Venus, and several playful little naked figures. These represent the pagan world and 'impure', earthly love, as opposed to the divine love in which Christ was conceived.
Marten de Vos spent some time in Italy, where he familiarised himself with the new art of the Renaissance. This is apparent in details like the lively poses, the realistic approach to the anatomy and the references to classical antiquity. The divided upper zone, one half containing an architectural setting and the other a deep landscape, was also typical of 16th-century Venetian art.