Great Hours of Anne of Brittany

Great Hours of Anne of Brittany The Nativity, f. 51v

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The Nativity, f. 51v

One of the most impressive night scenes in not only the Great Hours of Anne of Brittany, but also all the manuscripts illuminated in Europe in the entire Middle Ages, as pointed out by art historians.
The extremely complex and masterful illumination of this night scene is charged with meaning. The rays from the star of Bethlehem shine through holes in the damaged roof of the stable where the Son of God was born. The lantern held by Joseph, in the garb of a medieval pilgrim, only illuminates his face for the halo surrounding the new-born child outshines its light, and even illuminates Our Lady, in both a physical and figurative sense. Bourdichon clearly indicates the role that Jesus’ birth will play in the history of the world.
The wealth of the iconographic sources used by Bourdichon is obvious in this scene. The motif of the naked Child lying on the ground with light emanating from him is borrowed from the Revelationes of Saint Brigit of Sweden, the earliest representations of which date back to the early fifteenth century, followed by works by Hugo van der Goes and Gérard David. The shepherds in the background and the ox and ass in the foreground witness the scene. They symbolise the churches of the pagans and the Jews assimilated by Christianity.
Inside the golden frame around the image is a solemn legend reading, “Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given”.

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