“The Nativity with the Adoration of the Shepherds”
Oil on canvas
Galleria Borghese, Rome
Giorgio Vasari was born in Arezzo, Tuscany in the year 1511, and became the pupil of a stained glass painter when he was a young boy. At the age of 16 Vasari was sent to Florence and befriended Michelangelo, whose painting style influenced his own. In addition to his paintings, Vasari was an expect architect – he built many beautiful things including the loggia of the Palazzo degli Uffizi and the Vasari Corridor. He also is very well-known for his intellectual books and writings. Vasari died in Florence in June of 1574 at the age of 63.
Vasari represents the style of Mannerism, which emerged in the later years of the High Renaissance. Mannerism involves meticulous attention to detail, as can be seen in his nativity scene. Movement was also a big part of Mannerism, and Vasari invented the term figura serpentinata to describe the idea that displaying several aspects of the figure at once leads to the optical belief that they are moving. The openness of the bodies of Mary and the shepherds in The Nativity with the Adoration of the Shepherds allows the audience to get the impression that they are moving. The fact that the three angels are seen from all different angles also gives the illusion of movement, as the audience gets a good picture of the what the full figure of each angel looks like. Earlier Renaissance paintings also had clearly defined and even space on all sides, but Mannerist art pieces contain uneven spaces, as can be seen in the unevenness of the left side verses the right side.
The lightness of baby Jesus verses that of the other figures in Vasari’s painting shows that he is the “light of the world” and is bringing his light to the dark world. The structure of the lighting even makes it seem as if the only light source is Jesus, because those faces that are lit up are receiving the light from below them (where Jesus is lying on the ground). The figures that are closer to Jesus have more lightened faces, and Mary and the shepherd behind her are the two faces that are most prominently lit in the scene. The figures that are farther away from baby Jesus are receiving less light and are more shadowed, symbolizing that the farther one is from Christ the more dark their world will be. The only other light source is the light shining on the angels, and that light appears to be heavenly and only illuminates the angels in the cloud.
I love this painting because of the gentle power of the message – the softness of the faces in the painting create a sense of peace within me, and I’m reminded of the song “O Holy Night”, because Vasari was able to portray through The Nativity with the Adoration of the Shepherds the wonder and sense of awe that defines the night of Jesus’ birth. Vasari’s use of light is beautiful, and I think that making baby Jesus the main light source in the painting was a wise choice because it is both aesthetically pleasing and adds significant meaning to the piece of art. The mannerist style in which he painted allows me to believe in the characters’ movement in the artwork, and I can see the various reactions of the shepherds through their motions in response to baby Jesus. I can also sense the joy of the moment through the various angles of the angels, making them appear as if they are dancing and celebrating Jesus’ birth. Even though Vasari was more well-known for his architecture, his painting The Nativity with the Adoration of the Shepherds is a masterpiece that many can learn from.