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The Nativity of the Virgin

Sano di Pietro

Artwork Details

The Nativity of the Virgin
Sano di Pietro
tempera and gold on panel
16 7/16 in x 22 7/16 in x 1 ⅜ in (41.75 cm x 56.99 cm x 3.49 cm);16 7/16 in x 22 7/16 in x 1 ⅜ in (41.75 cm x 56.99 cm x 3.49 cm);12 ⅜ in x 18 11/16 in x 3/16 in (31.43 cm x 47.47 cm x 0.48 cm)
Museum purchase made possible by the Thirtieth Anniversary Project and the Friends of the Museum of Art


March 28, 2009
Staged in an affluent fifteenth-century home, this scene depicts a celebrated event in Christian history: the birth of the Virgin Mary. Saint Anne, the Virgin’s mother, rests in bed on the right, surrounded by bustling birth attendants and a woman seated at the foot of the bed, who may be Elizabeth, the future mother of John the Baptist. All the figures in the room turn toward the infant Mary, who is held by a servant, and the angel that appears above her head. Outside the birth chamber, Mary’s father Joachim (distinguished by his halo) and a companion receive news of the birth from a child. This panel once accompanied four other scenes from the life of the Virgin to form a predella, a row of small horizontal paintings below the larger main panel of an altarpiece. This predella was commissioned from Sano di Pietro as part of the refurbishment of an earlier and venerated altarpiece installed in the chapel of the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena.

Subject Matter:

A comfortable household provides the setting for the birth of the Virgin Mary depicted in this panel. St. Anne, Mary's mother, lies in bed and turns to gaze toward her daughter, who is held on the lap of an attendant sitting by the fire. Other attendants and midwives move about the room while a more richly clad woman, possibly St. Elizabeth, sits at the foot of the bed, looking at Mary. In the antechamber the haloed figure of Joachim receives news of the birth from the child standing before him.

Physical Description:

This painted panel depicts an intimate domestic setting consisting of a bedchamber with a fireplace and a smaller vaulted antechamber that opens out on a garden. A haloed woman wearing a white veil rests in bed, having recently given birth. She leans to her right as she reaches toward a basin held by an attendant and looks across the room to the infant who is held on the lap of another servant. A halo also encircles the head of the child and a pair of angels fly above her. Several other attendants and midwives bustle about the room, while another woman, more richly clad than the servants, gazes on the child from her seat at the foot of the bed. In the antechamber sits a haloed man in a long white beard, who leans forward to hear news of the birth from the child standing in front of him. A companion sits behind him and a servant passes through the door into the bedchamber.

Usage Rights:

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