I'm not able to walk very far these days, and still less am I in a position to go to Spain. Still, I'm ever more attracted to the idea of making a pilgrimage. To Rome, perhaps? or, using the Way of St. James to Compostela?
Researching the latter possibility, I came across this set of lovely photographs by someone who actually did make the 500-mile pilgrimage. All the more tempting now!
We have already looked at a couple of works depicting the shepherds as they adored the Christ child while kneeling inside the stable. Much less frequently, the shepherds are shown standing outside the stable, looking into it. My name for this sub-genre is the "Arrival of the Shepherds," since it seems to depict them just as they have arrived but before they have entered the stable and knelt down in worship.
In the works below, as you will see, the shepherds are shown peering into the stable, catching sight for the first time of the baby they have come to see.
1: Nativity, 1445, by Dieric Bouts the Elder. This work has no animals. It does have angels within the stable, and shepherds outside, gazing in.
2: Nativity, c. 1480, by the Master of Moulins, a French artist. This work has two scenes, somewhat separated in time. There is an Annunciation to the Shepherds far in the background. The main scene shows a Nativity, with an ox but no ass; two angels within the stable; and shepherds gazing in. The man on the right is Jean Rolin, the cardinal of Autun, France (who probably commissioned the work). Notice the little white dog sitting on his robe!
3: Nativity, c. 1500, a leaf from an illuminated manuscript, by Simon Bening, a famous illuminator. This miniature has the ox and ass; angels above and angels within the stable; and two shepherds peering in from outside.
To me these are very appealing pictures. That is due, I think, to the combined humility and earnestness of the shepherds.
After the angel announced the birth of the Christ child to them, the shepherds decided to try to find Him. A painting which shows the shepherds having arrived at the stable and reverently viewing the Child is called an "Adoration of the Shepherds."
A particularly good example of this theme is here:
In this two-part work, the Annunciation to the Shepherds is shown in the background, while the subsequent Adoration of the Shepherds appears in the foreground.
More often, the shepherds are
The Adoration scene is based on a further selection from the Gospel of Luke 2:15-16.
And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.
Such scenes are based on this passage from the Gospel of Luke 2:8-14:
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
An "Adoration" will usually show Mary, often with Joseph, in a prayerful attitude, learning slightly over the Christ child. The donkey and ox are sometimes missing, but sometimes present. A stable-like structure might, or might not, be present.
It's time for some Christmas art. Let's start with some "true" Nativities. A true Nativity will have five basic elements and be set in something like a stable.
As an example, take a look at this Nativity, by Domenico Ghirlandaio. It has the five requisite elements of three persons (Mary, Jesus, Joseph) and two animals (a donkey and an ox). It is set in a structure clearly intended to represent a stable.