Giorgione has always been considered one of the greatest artists of the Renaissance, and one whose influence on following generations of painters was considerable. For all his fame, very little is known about his short life (he may have died during a plague epidemic in 1510 at age 32 or 33), and only a few paintings can be definitively attributed to him. He initially studied with Giovanni Bellini, seems to have been influenced by Leonardo, and could claim Titian and Sebastiano del Piombo as his pupils.
The Adoration of the Shepherds, or the Allendale Nativity, as it is commonly known after one of its previous owners, is now almost unanimously accepted as Giorgione’s work. This important painting had an immediate impact on Venetian artists. The composition is divided into two parts, with a dark cave on the right and a luminous Venetian landscape on the left. The shimmering draperies of Joseph and Mary are set off by the darkness behind them and contrast with the tattered dress of the shepherds. The scene is one of intense meditation; the rustic, yet dignified, shepherds are the first to recognize Christ's divinity and they kneel accordingly. Mary and Joseph also participate in the adoration, creating an atmosphere of intimacy.