The modern Nativity

“Bonding time: the Nativity in Townsville [Australia],” Jan Hynes, 2007.

“Bonding time: the Nativity in Townsville [Australia],” Jan Hynes, 2007.

When my young friend Ezra was a new father, I was inspired to paint the Nativity with modern Jewish faces. It was a sad fail and I destroyed it without photographing it.

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.

"Nativity," Brian Kershisnik, 2006.

“Nativity,” Brian Kershisnik, 2006.

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.

"The Chavtivity," unknown artist, sometime before 2007.

“The Chavtivity,” unknown artist, sometime before 2007.

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.

Carol Douglas

About Carol Douglas

Carol L. Douglas is a painter who lives, works and teaches in Rockport, ME. Her annual workshop will again be held on the Schoodic Peninsula in beautiful Acadia National Park, from August 6-11, 2017. Visit for more information.