Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, one of the greatest 17th-century Spanish painters, executed The Nativity on obsidian, a lustrous volcanic black glass.

Scholarship suggests that the obsidian was originally created by an Aztec craftsman for use as a "smoking mirror," a ceremonial tool for spiritual communication and divination. Murillo used the Pre-Columbian object as a painting surface, cleverly taking advantage of the vertical inclusions in the glass to suggest heavenly rays shining down on the Holy Family.


  • Title: The Nativity
  • Creator: Bartolomé Esteban Murillo
  • Date Created: c. 1665-1670
  • Physical Dimensions: w34.1 x h38.1 cm (unframed)
  • Type: Painting
  • External Link: MFAH
  • Medium: Oil on obsidian
  • Credit Line: The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, The Rienzi Collection, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Harris Masterson III

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