Nativity Paintings from around the World

Behold, 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 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 nineteen 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.


"Nativity" by James B. Janknegt

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


Crow Nation (Montana-based tribe):

Native American Nativity

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



Guatemalan Nativity

John Giuliani, Guatemalan Nativity, 1990s.



Nicaraguan Nativity

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



Nativity by Dinah Roe Kendall

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



Nativity by Solomon Raj

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

Source. (see also another version)


Chinese nativity

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



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.



Korean nativity

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



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)


Thai nativity

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

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


Malaysian nativity

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



Indonesian nativity

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



Filippino nativity

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



African nativity

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



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.


Australia (Aboriginal):

Australian nativity

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



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)

Update: For a new compilation, see “More Nativity Paintings from around the World.”

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

38 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!!!

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  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.

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  8. Rhoda Alex says:

    brilliant compilation

  9. li88yinc says:

    Thanks so much for this! I’m taking it to show my catechism students!

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  16. jo cornille says:

    very fine, but I missed images by one of the best French contemporary artists, ARCABAS

    • Thanks, Jo. I love Arcabas’s work and have featured it on the blog before. For this post, though, I wanted to focus on paintings that contextualize the Nativity to a particular place and culture. The Nativity images by Arcabas are beautiful but do not explicitly show Christ being born as French, if that makes sense.

      • Lauren says:

        John Giuliani is not Crow or Guatemalan. There are many North and South American Indigenous artists.

      • If there are Indigenous artists who have visualized Christ’s nativity and whose works have been photographed, please do send me names and/or links! I’m aware of many creches by Native Americans, but in this post I’m limiting the selection to graphic art.

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  25. Dona Marchionni says:

    Excellent representation of different aspects of our unity in Christ. Thank you.
    Is Joseph actually wearing a business suit in the UK rendition?

  26. Kathleen Cody says:

    Wow amazing Jesus and the people of different countries had their own interpretation. Just fantastic. Thank you for sharing

    • Judy Touhill says:

      I picture the Nativity a lot like the Crow Nation. May we make a warm place in our hearts for baby Jesus to rest this Christmas season🙏

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