The Nativity at Night, Geertgen tot Sint Jans

December 19th 2020

Geertgen tot Sint Jans The Nativity at Night possibly about 1490 Oil on oak, 34 x 25.3 cm Bought, 1925 NG4081

The holy child  lies in a manger watched over by his mother Mary.   Behind her in the shadows, Joseph looks on. The ox and the ass are in the centre but it is Mary’s brightly lit face and those of the angels that draw us.   Through the open end of the stable, you can see another angel announcing glad tidings to shepherds on a hillside.   The facial expressions of Mary and of each angel are quite remarkable.  Mary is caught up in wonder and love for her child, but there is a sadness there too.  The child lies in a stone manger, which is almost like a sepulchre and perhaps suggests Christ’s Passion.  In the manger there are sheaves of wheat which must symbolise the Eucharist.   The child is is very small and the heads of the ox and ass are very large, so that the fragility of the child is emphasised.  In this way, the artist seeks to convey the great mystery of the Incarnation.   The most striking element in this painting is the light which radiates from the child and illuminates the faces.  In fact, it is based on a vision of St Bridget of Sweden in which she saw the child radiate “an ineffable light and splendour that the sun was not comparable with”.   This painting has survived a fire, but not without damage.   Its power to captivate remains and perhaps there is something added by its fragile state.  Those who meditate on this painting today are meant to understand the same message intended by the artist, that this child is the “light that enlightens every man”  (Jn 1:9) and “the bread of life” (Jn 6:35).  

The Nativity at Night, Geertgen tot Sint Jans

Edinburgh Catholic Chaplaincy

The Catholic Chaplaincy serves the students and staff of the University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh Napier University and Queen Margaret University.

The Catholic Chaplaincy is also a parish of the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh (the Parish of St Albert the Great) and all Catholic students and staff are automatically members of this parish.

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