Paintings of the Nativity: Christmas in the History of Art in Rome

Paintings of the Nativity: Christmas in the History of Art in Rome Paintings of the Nativity: Christmas in the History of Art in Rome

Tourist information

05 Dec 2022

Rome is the center of Christianity and for this reason also Christmas, that is, the day celebrating the birth of Jesus. The sacred image of Jesus was immortalized by many and famous works of art depicting the Nativity.

Rome therefore preserves the most beautiful works of painting and sculpture, performed by the greatest artists in the history of art.
In the shadow of its many domes and churches, Rome boasts over the centuries, a long history of Christmas rites and celebrations; some now lost, others still current or even new.

So you can not miss during your stay in Rome, a path that from place to place goes to discover the "Christmas" sites of the city, to investigate and browse between the spirituality of the Romans and their relationship with Christmas.

The Oldest Crib in the world in Rome

The oldest crib in the world is located in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore. It is a work created by Arnolfo di Cambio in 1291, commissioned by Pope Nicholas IV.
It is no coincidence that this crib was made for the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore so that it would become a second Bethlehem.

In the same Basilica, there is also the relic of the Cradle of the Child Jesus, or the five small maple rods from the Holy Cradle of Palestine, together with the bands in which the small body of Jesus was wrapped. Thus, the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore became the destination of all pilgrims, who especially on the occasion of the Christmas holidays venerate it with great devotion and spirituality.

You can visit the heart of the Nativity in Rome by reaching our stop n° 2 Hop-On Hop-Off, where you can visit the Basilica of Santa Maggiore.

The most famous paintings of the Nativity in Rome

But which artists in Rome celebrated the Nativity with painting? here are the most important.

The oldest scene of the Nativity is located in Rome, in the Catacombs of Priscilla along the Via Salaria, and dates back to the third century. The scene depicts the Virgin holding the Child and next to the man, probably a prophet, pointing to a star.

In the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere, in 1291 Pietro Cavallini created the splendid mosaic cycle with the "Stories of the Virgin", and among these, the scene of the Nativity, with Byzantine references and richly decorated polychrome backgrounds.

In the Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo, in Piazza del Popolo, the Pinturicchio, decorates the Chapel of the Crib, characterized by a starry blue vault and an angel on top announcing the arrival of the Three Wise Men.

In the Pinacoteca Vaticana, is kept the enchanting painting made by the young Raphael between 1502 and 1504, and which is part of the Altarpiece of the Coronation of the Virgin. The scene illustrates the hut where the Madonna holds the Child Jesus on the knee, offering it to the devotion of the Three Wise Men.

Also in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, in 1600, the painter Francesco Mancini performed "The Adoration of the Shepherds". Jesus, Mary and Joseph, all have their eyes turned to the outside of the painting: they look at us, as if they had noticed our arrival, and welcome us.
At the foot of the humble manger covered with hay, there is a group of shepherds, among whom a child appears, who, with a gesture of wonder, points to the mother, gathered in prayer, the Child Jesus.
The skillful Baroque construction of the canvas, based on a postponement of gestures and glances between the characters, is strongly engaging; and, for a moment, we may seem to be, right there, in the stable of Bethlehem, to witness the birth of the Saviour