The birth of Christ was one of the most widely painted subjects in medieval and Renaissance art. However, it is surprisingly difficult for the modern artist to grab onto. It seems like there are only two ways in which we can approach it—either by slavishly copying the masters, or by brutally wrenching it into our own time.
The problem with our own time is that it is incredibly cynical, and a cynical reading of the Nativity runs counter to the subject’s inherent theme.
In my own experience, painting about faith is easier when one is indirect, using symbols instead of people. This was the approach I took with the body of work called “God + Man” (Davison Gallery, Roberts Wesleyan, 2014) and the approach taken by many contemporary Christian painters.
Curiously, Nativity art flourishes in another form, the marketplace Christmas crèche. Whether they’re mass-produced, made by craftsmen, or heirloom antiques, Christmas crèches are among the most popular seasonal decorations in Christendom.