Nativity Paintings from around the World

[B]ehold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.  (Luke 2:10-11)

Jesus Christ was born for all people of all times.  To illustrate this truth, Christians around the world often depict him as coming into their own culture, in the present time.  The Italians, whose visual language was predominant during the Middle Ages and Renaissance, did it.  In fact, when you think “Nativity,” you probably think of the church art from that age and country—not because it offers the most legitimate representations (they are no more “accurate” than the ones below), but because the Church held particular sway at that time, in that place.

Well, the center of Christianity has shifted; it is no longer in the West.  And thus if we were to survey the Christian art being produced today, we would see that Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, and the settings they inhabit, have a much different look.  We’d see Mary dressed in a sari or a hanbok; we’d see Jesus wrapped in buffalo skin, or silk.  We’d see lizards and kangaroos instead of oxes and asses.

Historical accuracy is not the point; the point is to see Jesus as the Savior of your own people, as incarnated very close to you, and relevant to life today.

Here are 19 contextualizations of the Nativity painted within the last century.  Each work brings Jesus into a different place, in order to emphasize the universality of his birth.

USA:

"Nativity" by James B. Janknegt

James B. Janknegt, Nativity, 1995. Oil on canvas, 57 x 82 cm.

Source.

Crow Nation (Montana-based tribe):

Native American Nativity

John Guiliani, Mary Gives Birth to Jesus, 1999. From The Crow Series.

Source.

Guatemala:

Guatemalan Nativity

John Giuliani, Guatemalan Nativity, 1990s.

Source

Nicaragua:

Nicaraguan Nativity

Leoncio Saenz, Nacimiento (Nativity), 1983. The banner reads: “I come to tell them that in Nicaragua the new man has been born.”

Source.

England:

Nativity by Dinah Roe Kendall

Dinah Roe Kendall, The Shepherds Went to See the Baby, 1998.

Source.

India:

Nativity by Solomon Raj

P. Solomon Raj, Nativity, 1980s. Batik.

Source. (see also another version)

China:

Chinese nativity

He Qi, Nativity, 1998. Ink and gouache on rice paper.

Source.

Tibet:

Tibetan nativity

A thangka (sacred wall hanging) given by H.H. the Dalai Lama to Fr. Laurence Freeman and the World Community for Christian Meditation in 1998.

Source.

Korea:

Korean nativity

Woonbo Kim Ki-chang, The Birth of Jesus Christ, 1952-53. Ink and color on silk, 76 x 63 cm.

Source.

Japan:

Japanese nativity

Sadao Watanabe, Nativity, 1960s? Stencil print on momigami paper, 58 x 78 cm.

Source. (see two other nativities by Watanabe here and here)

Thailand:

Thai nativity

Sawai Chinnawong, Nativity, 2004. Acrylic on canvas, 32 x 37 in.

Source. (see another Nativity painting by the same artist)

Malaysia:

Malaysian nativity

Hanna Varghese, God Is With Us, 2006. Acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20 in.

Source.

Indonesia:

Indonesian nativity

Erland Sibuea, Nativity, 2008.  Acrylic on canvas, 31 x 23.6 cm.

Source.

Philippines:

Filippino nativity

Kristoffer Ardena, The Meaning of Christmas, 1995. Oil on canvas, 62 x 46 cm.

Source.

Uganda:

African nativity

Francis Musango, Christ in the Manger, n.d. Oil painting.

Source.

Cameroon:

African nativity

Fr. Engelbert Mveng, Nativity, early 1990s. Central scene from church mural. Holy Angels Church, Aurora, Illinois.

Source. (see the full mural)

Democratic Republic of the Congo:

African nativity

Joseph Mulamba-Mandangi, Nativity, 2001. Peinture grattée, 70 x 50 cm.

Source.

Australia (Aboriginal):

Australian nativity

Greg Weatherby, Dreamtime Birth, 1990s? 51 x 64 cm.

Source.

Tahiti:

Nativity by Paul Gauguin

Paul Gauguin, Baby (The Nativity), 1896. Oil on canvas. The Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia.

Source. (see also Gauguin’s other Nativity painting, Te Tamari No Atua)

This entry was posted in Non-Western Art, Western Art and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Nativity Paintings from around the World

  1. Christine Way Skinner says:

    You should also look at William Kurelek’s wonderful Canadian Nativities.

  2. These paintings are awesome! I like the Indonesian and Korean one! Wowww!!!

  3. Pingback: Diverse Congregations | achurchforstarvingartists

  4. Thank you for this magnificent human-raceness
    representation of Jesus, the Messiah for all!

  5. Penny Skelton says:

    Thank you for these as they have helped me enormously in preparation for a short talk to my U3A Art Forum Group. This has been a wonderful starting point and has greatly encouraged me.
    Penny

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