Christmas by continent

⁠We are celebrating the story of the Nativity through selected artworks from around the world.⁠

The story of the nativity begins over 2,000 years ago in the town of Nazareth where the Virgin Mary is visited by the angel Gabriel, who tells her she is to have a son named Jesus.

Henry Ossawa Tanner, 'The Annunciation', 1898, America
Henry Ossawa Tanner, the first African-American artist to gain notoriety as a painter, frequently chose to depict religious scenes. Inspired by his travels to Egypt and Palestine in 1897, Tanner chose to depict Mary as a young girl in Middle Eastern peasant clothing, as opposed to the conventional manner with holy attributes. This serves as a reminder to the viewer of the enormity of the event which happened to an ordinary girl.

The Roman emperor orders a census to be taken and so Mary must travel to Bethlehem on a donkey alongside her husband Joseph.

Anonymous, 'The Journey to Bethlehem', 110-1120 AD, Italy
This carving, likely produced in Amalfi, Italy, is a glorious compendium of Islamic, Byzantine and Western motifs. It’s speculated that the third figure is one of Joseph's sons from his previous marriage, an unusual incorporation in the history of visual art illustrating the Nativity story.

Due any moment and with no place to stay at the inn, Mary has no choice but to give birth in a stable.

William Hole, 'Joseph and Mary Arrive at Bethlehem', 1906, England
Around 1900 Hole travelled to the Holy Land to work on a series of 80 watercolours depicting the The Life of Jesus of Nazareth. The meticulous attention to detail in this exquisite example of his work shows how Hole sought to capture the historical accuracy of the story’s setting and the description of the scene as it was told in the Bible.

Upon the baby Jesus’ arrival Mary wraps him in a cloth and lays him in a manger.

Paul Gauguin, 'Nativité', 1902, France
In Gauguin's Nativity scene we see the traditional subject of Jesus’s birth melded with a Polynesian cultural environment. Painted the same year Gauguin arrived in the Marquesas to escape Colonial French governance, the painting undercuts the approved representational ideals held by the Catholic Church of the time, simultaneously juxtaposing and elevating the humanistic qualities of the story.


An angel appears above a flock of shepherds, announcing the good news of the birth of Christ. They set out to find the shed and meet the newborn child.

The Limbourg Brothers, 'The Annunciation to the Shepherds', 1412-14, France

This lavish piece of manuscript illumination was crafted in 15th Century France by three brothers known as the Limbourgs. The scene is a page from a famous devotional book by the brothers titled ‘The Très Riches Heures’, commissioned by the Duke of Berry for his impressive private collection.


At the same time, a bright star appears above where Jesus is born. Three kings traveling from distant lands follow the star to the site, bestowing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Vladimir Sakhnenko, Magi, 1981, Russia
Russian artist, Vladimir Sakhnenko born in Ukraine, dedicated his artistic practice to painting and ceramics. His pottery works were mostly decorative works for interior spaces and his paintings adorn cultural centers even today. In the 1980s after having produced several black and white paintings, his work switched from figurative compositions to abstract biblical scenes and still lives dominated by his bright color palette.

It embodies the biblical story of the birth of Christ, a religious festivity that is celebrated on the 25th December.

Harue Konga, The Nativity, 1924, Japan
Avant-Garde artist, Harue Koga was active in the early 20th century and is considered one of the most prevalent surrealist artists in Japan. In his early career, Konga enrolled to a Pacific Art Society in Tokyo which specialized in teaching Western-style art, a manner apparent in this work through its rendering of the figures and undertones of the Cubist style. In his later years, he dedicated his life to Buddhist priesthood while also continuing to paint in his spare time.

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