The Christmas Tale As Told Through Historical Paintings
Art4 Minutes Read

The Christmas Tale As Told Through Historical Paintings

December 25, 2021 Share

The Christian tale of Christmas has no lack of master paintings when it comes to the most popular national holiday in the United States.

Christmas. Up goes the tree; on go the lights. An exciting season of presents and parties only a scrooge could hate. But where did all the traditions of the Christmas tale start? 

There is a hidden history behind all of our modern customs. Some origins are dark and mystical, while others are simply about making money. 

Today it may be represented by presents and Santa Claus, in the historical art world, different interpretations and depictions of the famous day are anything but short. 


 According to ArtNet, “due to the lack of understanding in the Renaissance times, it led the Catholic Church and wealthy merchants to commission a large number of painters to tell the story of the origins of Christianity instead.”

Here we re-tell the Christmas tale through the most beautiful old master paintings to date.

Sandro Botticelli – The Annunciation (1498)

Christmas tale

Rembrandt – Dream of Joseph (1645)

Christmas tale

Hugo van der Goes – Mary and Joseph on the Way to Bethlehem (1475)

Christmas tale

The painting shows Mary and Joseph travelling to Bethlehem. This is illustrated by Mary’s advanced pregnancy depicting the ageing Joseph carefully guiding his wife down the steep and rocky mountain.

Pieter Bruegel The Elder – The Census at Bethlehem (1566)

Christmas tale
‘The Census at Bethlehem’ (c1611) by Pieter Brueghel the Younger

Mary and Joseph are on their way to be registered in a census ordered by the Romans.

Caravaggio – Nativity with St Francis and St Lawrence (1609)

Christmas tale

This large-scale painting shows the Virgin Mary resting and gazing at the child she’s just given birth to.

Benozzo Gozzoli – The Procession of the Magi (1459-1461)

Rubens – The Adoration of the Magi (1609-1610)

Depicting the three kings worshipping and offering gifts to the newborn son of God.

Since then, Christmas has become an annual festival commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ, observed primarily on December 25.

From gift wrapping to Christmas trees, a department store Santa’s and beyond, what started as a religious holiday has taken on commercial significance. Either way, the art of historical paintings will never change. 

They will always tell a story through the eyes of those who choose to see it.

Seasons Greetings From All Of Us At Don’t Die Wondering!

SEE MORE: Most Memorable Art In History | Top Paintings That Changed The World 

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Author: Michelle Laver
Benozzo Gozzoli
Historical paintings
Hugo Van Der Goes
Pieter Bruegel
Sandro Botticelli