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Nativity scene by Romanino

Tue, 11/02/2014 - 10:11 -- Laura
Brescia, Nativity by Romanino

Around 1545, the sixty-year old painter from Brescia Girolamo Romanino conceived this Nativity Scene. This large painting decorated a side chapel dedicated to the Immaculate Conception in San Giuseppe church in Brescia. The specific theme had a strong influence in the painting general composition, as well as on many of the choices Romanino made.

Indeed, he presents the scene inserting various elements that recall the purity of the Virgin Mary. In particular, the painter left an ample section to the Virgin’s mantle, which pearl white colour has a clear symbolic meaning and occupies a wide area in the lower part of the painting. Undoubtedly, it plays an important role in the whole composition. In this phase of his life, Romanino is paying great attention to bright and iridescent colours, probably influenced by the research carried out by Savoldo. The painting is then based upon the contrast between the golden dim glow of sunset and the light silvery colour of the foreground.

The artist settles the scene among the ruins of an ancient building, following a very common figurative tradition, by adding a large number of precious details. On the background there is the outline of a building under construction, probably the Loggia in Brescia. Close to San Giuseppe church, the Loggia was going to be completed during the same period while Romanino was painting the canvas. On the left he then adds two shepherds, who maybe represent the orthodox friars minor, an order that at the time was based in San Giuseppe church. These two people are having a friendly talk with Saint Joseph, asking for clarifications, laying a hand on his shoulder, establishing an intense emotional dialogue that inevitably involves those who watch the scene. The Saint turns his head towards them and points to the Child, who is lying on the corner of his mother’s mantle.

Above the hut, Romanino depicts two flying angels carrying a scroll with musical notes on it. On the springer of the arch, above the shepherds, an owl peers over the scene, symbolising the redeeming sacrifice of Christ. Traditionally, this night bird, living in the darkness, was considered one of the symbols for Christ, who had to face the shadows of death to save humanity.

Girolamo Romani known as ‘il Romanino’
(Brescia 1484/87 – 1560)
Nativity Scene
(around 1545)
Oil on canvas, cm 240 x 180
From the church of San Giuseppe in Brescia,
now in Santa Giulia, City Museum