The Nativity
Adoration of the Christ Child


   St.  Bridget of Sweden (1303 - 1373) had a vision of the Nativity. This has had a powerful influence on art, though in general it took a long time coming.

When I was present by the manger of the Lord in Bethlehem . . . I beheld a virgin of extreme beauty. . . . well wrapped in a white mantle and a delicate tunic, through which I clearly perceived her virgin body. . . . With her was an old man of great honesty, and they brought with them an ox and an ass. These entered the cave, and the man, after having tied them to the manger, went outside and brought to the virgin a burning candle; having attached this to the wall he went outside, so that he might not be present at the birth. Then the virgin pulled off the shoes from her feet, drew off the white mantle, that enveloped her, removed the veil from her head, laying it by her side, thus remaining in her tunic alone with her beautiful golden hair falling loosely down her shoulders. Then she produced two small linen cloths and two woollen ones, of exquisite purity and fineness, that she had brought, in which to wrap up the child who was to be born; and two other small articles with which to cover and bind his head, and these she put down beside her in order to use them in due time. . . . And when all was thus prepared, the virgin knelt down with great veneration in an attitude of prayer, and her back was turned to the manger, but her face was lifted to heaven, towards the east. Thus with her hands extended and her eyes fixed on the sky she was standing as in ecstasy, lost in contemplation, in a rapture of divine sweetness. And while she was standing thus in prayer, I saw the child in her womb move and suddenly in a moment she gave birth to her son, from whom radiated such an ineffable light and splendour, that the sun was not comparable to it, nor did the candle, that St Joseph had put there, give any light at all, the divine light totally annihilating the material light of the candle, and so sudden and instantaneous was this way of bringing forth, that I could neither discover nor discern how, or by means of which member, she gave birth. Verily though, all of a sudden, I saw the glorious infant lying on the ground naked and shining. His body was pure from any kind of soil and impurity. Then I heard also the singing of the angels, which was of miraculous sweetness and great beauty. . . . When therefore the virgin felt, that she had already borne her child, she immediately worshipped him, her head bent down and her hands clasped, with great honour and reverence and said unto him, Be welcome my God, my Lord and my Son. . . . When this was done, the old man entered and prostrating himself to the floor, he wept for joy.  
As early as the 1370s, soon after Bridget's death in Rome, Niccolo di Tommaso  painted St Bridget's Vision of the Nativity; there are at least two versions of this image by this artist.  Then the idea faded away for a hundred years or so, until artists such as Lippi and Botticelli took it up again. 
    In some paintings, such as   those by 
Geertgen tot Sint Jans  and Correggio, there is to my eyes a suggestion of an altar.                                    

Niccolo di Tommaso: St Bridget's Vision of the Nativity
Pinacoteca, Vatican

Fra Filippo Lippi: Madonna in the Forest
Staatliche Museen, Berlin

Geertgen tot Sint Jans: Adoration of the Christ Child
National  Gallery, London

Correggio: Adoration of the Child
Uffizi, Florence

Botticelli: The Virgin adoring the sleeping Christ Child.
National Gallery of Scotland.

  One theory suggests that the idea wasn't original to St. Bridget, but that her vision was based on earlier images inspired by Franciscan thought - St. Bridget was closely associated with the Franciscans. As yet, I have not found examples of such early images. 

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