Porcelain Illumination Nativity

Porcelain Illumination Nativity

This porcelain plate depicts a 15th C. Illumination of Flemish origin. The manuscript, a Book of Hours is currently preserved in the Vatican Library. The almost full-page illumination for the Liturgy of the Hours on Christmas Day depicts a lovely Nativity scene which is greatly inspired by the visions of St. Bridget of Sweden (1303-73).

Mary is dressed in the traditional blue and her hair is mostly covered with a white veil, common for married women. She kneels in adoration before her child, Jesus who lies on the ground in a brilliant ray of light. Both Mary and Jesus have a halo. Joseph who is depicted as an old man appears smaller than Mary. He kneels somewhat to the side. He has no halo and is dressed in typical 15th C. Flemish traveling attire. His money purse is hanging from his belt.

One details is of note: Joseph holds a burning candle in his left hand and shields the light with his right. This attribute was added to depictions of the nativity starting in the 15th C. It is based on a  detail in the visions of St. Bridget of Sweden (1303-73): “With her there was a very dignified old man; and with them they had both an ox and an ass. When they had entered the cave, and after the ox and the ass had been tied to the manger, the old man went outside and brought to the Virgin a lighted candle and fixed it in the wall and went outside in order not to be personally present at the birth” (Revelationes Coelestes: Book 7, Chapter 21).  After Jesus’ was born, according to St. Bridget, the cave where the birth took place was filled with a brilliant divine light which completely outshone the earthly light of Joseph’s candle.

The ox and donkey are close to the Christ Child. At some distance two shepherds approach the Holy Family and genuflect.  The scene is set in a hortus conclusus or closed garden made out of woven branches. This is a clear reference to the virginity of Mary even after giving birth to Jesus.

Name: Porcelain Illumination Nativity
Artist: Unknown
Country: Vatican City
Material: Other
Jesus, Mary, Joseph, shepherds, ox, donkey
Acquired: 1990

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