National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of The Adoration of the Shepherds Adriaen Isenbrant (artist)
Netherlandish, active 1510 - 1551
The Adoration of the Shepherds, probably 1520/1540
oil on panel
overall: 74.6 x 57 cm (29 3/8 x 22 7/16 in.) framed: 93.3 x 74.9 cm (36 3/4 x 29 1/2 in.)
Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund
On View
From the Tour: The Netherlands and France in the 1500s
Object 6 of 8

Isenbrant, called Gerard David’s “disciple” by a commentator in the 1600s, lived in Bruges and was clearly influenced by its preeminent painter. Notice, for example, how the faces of the Virgin here and in David’s Rest on the Flight into Egypt have the same shadowy softness, oval shape, and small rounded chin. Note too how the basket in David’s picture is found again as a cradle for the infant. Nevertheless, Isenbrant has also incorporated new elements popularized by artists in Antwerp, notably the Italianate architecture and the ambiguous way space recedes into the background.

The crumbling ruin, its ancient decoration slowly disappearing under creeping vines, suggests the decay of the old pagan religion. In the same vein, the figure of Moses at the top alludes to the transition from Old Testament law to the new era brought about by Christ’s birth. The shepherds who gather around the infant are the first to celebrate Jesus’ appearance on earth. The distant bonfires of a peasant festival celebrating the winter solstice help to fix the time of year. By placing the infant on an altarlike cradle next to a sheaf of wheat, the painting also stresses the association of the incarnation—Jesus’ human birth—with the eucharist, the presence of his body and blood in the wafer and wine of the mass.

Full Screen Image
Artist Information
Conservation Notes

«back to gallery»continue tour