Hughes’ painting is an unusual and poignant depiction of this subject. Mary is depicted as an adolescent unlike her traditional portrayal as a fully-grown woman, kneeling in the straw as she undertakes one of her first duties as a mother, wrapping her child in swaddling bands. The young mother and child seem fragile yet protected, as two angels shelter them with curving wings and three more angels hover in the rafters.

The claustrophobic composition and Hughes' distinctive colour sense produce an impression of an intense, intimate and supernatural experience. Although Mary as the central figure dominates the painting, Hughes also draws our attention to the Christ child by crowning him with a nimbus - a style of halo – which again affirms the spiritual nature of the painting.


  • Title: The Nativity
  • Date: 1857 - 1858
  • Physical Dimensions: w358 x h612 mm
  • Artist: Arthur Hughes
  • Provenance: Birmingham Museums Trust
  • Type: Painting
  • External Link: Birmingham Museums Trust
  • Medium: Oil and gold leaf on canvas

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