Art History

Top 15 Christmas Artworks From Throughout History

Merry Christmas to everyone celebrating today!  I searched the interwebs for Christmas art to share with you today and I ended up finding TONS!  After retrieving myself from various rabbit holes, I’m sharing 15 favorites from the ones that I found. 

1. The Nativity by Martin Schongauer (1435-1491)

1435–1491, The Nativity by Martin Schongauer

Martin Schongauer was a printmaker, engraver, and painter in a region now Eastern France but at the time a German-speaking part of the Holy Roman Empire.  His art exemplified the Gothic art style.  This piece is an engraving created approximately 1435-1491.

2. Nativity and Adoration of Shepherds by Domenico Ghirlandaio (1485)

1485, Nativity and Adoration of the Shepherds by Domenico Ghirlandaio

Domenico Ghirlandaio was an Italian Renaissance painter from Florence.  This oil painting was painted as an altarpiece in the Sassetti Chapel of Santa Trinita in Florence, Italy.  It was commissioned by Francesco Sassetti who was the director of the Medici Bank.  As many artists of this time period, Ghirlandaio painted himself in the scene as one of the characters (in this case a shepherd – likely the one pointing to Baby Jesus).  

3. Nativity at Night by Geertgen tot Sint Jans (1490)

1490, Nativity at Night by Geertgen tot Sint Jans

Geertgen tot Sint Jans was an Early Netherlandish painter from the northern Low Country of the Holy Roman Empire.   He was one of the first and most well-known oil painters of that region.  This painting was created by oil paints on oak panel.  During this time period (and throughout art history), you can see where several artists have done very similar paintings around the same theme.  Many artists were commissioned by the church and wealthy merchants to help spread the story of Christmas (as well as other religious stories) through their art.  

4. Mystic Nativity by Sandro Botticelli (1500)

1500, Mystic Nativity by Sandro Botticelli

Sandro Botticelli was a painter from the Early Italian Renaissance and one of my favorites during that time period.  He is probably best known for his mythological paintings, such as Birth of Venus.  Mystic Nativity is an oil painting on canvas.  I love how he portrays softness and movement in cloth – such as with the dancing angels in this painting.

5. Adoration of the Magi by Albrecht Durer (1504)

1504, Adoration of the Magi by Albrecht Durer

Albrecht Durer is probably most well-known for his woodcut prints, so I found it extra interesting to find this version of Adoration of the Magi painted by him.  Durer was a printmaker, painter, and theorist of the German Renaissance.  This piece was commissioned for the altar of Schlosskirche in Wittenberg by Frederick the Wise.  Durer painted himself into the painting as one of the kings (the long-haired one in green).

6. The Sistine Madonna by Raphael (1512-13)

1512-13, The Sistine Madonna by Raphael

Raphael was an Italian painter and architect of the High Renaissance.  This painting Sistine Madonna is one of his most well-known works (especially the two cherubs on the bottom).  It was an oil painted altarpiece commissioned by Pope Julius II in 1512 for the church of San Sisto, Piacenza.  

7 & 8. The Hunters in the Snow (1565) and The Census at Bethlehem (1566) by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

1565, The Hunters in the Snow by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

I tried to pick just one of Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s works, but I couldn’t choose.  I really like the composition of The Hunters in the Snow.  I like how the eye is drawn to the contrast between the trees and snow in the left foreground and then travels down throughout the painting.  

Pieter Bruegel the Elder was a painter and printmaker of the Dutch and Flemish Renaissance.  He is known for his landscapes and genre paintings (including peasants as subjects doing everyday tasks).  In The Census at Bethlehem, he shows a biblical scene but updated it to contemporary times and his own location.  

1566, The Census at Bethlehem by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

9. Adoration of the Shepherds by Caravaggio (1609)

1609, Adoration of the Shepherds by Caravaggio

Michelangelo Merisi (known as Caravaggio) was an Italian painter who influenced the transition from Mannerism to the Baroque art movement.  His work uses tenebrism (a dramatic use of chiaroscuro – high contrast between highlights and shadows).   His paintings show the subject’s human realistic physical and emotional state – often portraying struggle, pain, and torture.  I was a little surprised to find a nativity scene by him, but when I saw this painting I instantly recognized it was by him.  This version differs from the Renaissance versions that came before it as it shows the figures mostly as ordinary people barefoot in robes, rather than overtly divine figures (though if you look closely you can see very faint halos above Mary and Joseph).  The barn feels like a realistic scene dimly lit by candle.  

10. Adoration of the Shepherds by Gerard van Honthorst (1622)

1622, Adoration of the Shepherds by Gerard van Honthorst

Like I mentioned earlier, you’ll find many similar titles and themes throughout art history – such as Adoration of the Shepherds.  This version is by Dutch Golden Age painter Gerard van Honthorst.  To be honest, this is a new artist for me, but I found the way he portrayed light warm and inviting.  Honthorst was greatly influenced by Caravaggio’s work after visiting Rome.  

11. Merry Christmas by Viggo Johansen (1891)

1891, Merry Christmas by Viggo Johansen

I found this picture while looking for something else for this post and just had to include it!  It has a magical feel with the lights and it reminds me of an Impressionist painting (my favorite art movement).  Viggo Johansen was a Danish painter and part of the Skagen Painters.  He was influenced greatly by Impressionist Claude Monet.

12. Three Wise Men by Pablo Picasso (1947)

1947, Three Wise Men by Pablo Picasso

Did you know that Hallmark commissioned several well-known artists to create Christmas cards?  This was one of the ones by Pablo Picasso – Three Wise Men.  Pablo Picasso was a Spanish painter, sculptor, printmaker, and ceramicist who co-founded the Cubism movement and was also later part of the Surrealism movement.  

13. Santa with Drawers by Salvador Dali (1948)

1948, Santa with Drawers by Salvador Dali

Salvador Dali was another artist who was commissioned by Hallmark to create Christmas cards.  Santa with Drawers was one of the pieces created and I really enjoy it’s homage to The Persistence of Memory.  Several of the pieces he created didn’t end being published due to Hallmark not thinking the public would receive them well.  Salvador Dali was a Spanish artist to was part of the Surrealism movement.  His art explored themes of dreams and the subconscious, and included a lot of symbolism.

14. Merry Christmas, Grandma by Norman Rockwell (1951)

1951, Merry Christmas, Grandma by Norman Rockwell

Norman Rockwell has a way of encompassing the human experience.  The longer I look at this illustration, the more it brings back memories of Christmas mornings loading into the car for the hour or so drive to the Grandparents’ houses.  Everyone showing up in bundled up packs, hands full of presents, cookies, and side dishes.  Norman Rockwell has lots of Christmas themed art to check out.  He was an American painter and illustrator who created art idealizing ordinary life for The Saturday Evening Post and later art surrounding social justice issues and space exploration for Look Magazine.

15. Man Tangled Up in Christmas Decorations by Al Brule (1953)

1953, Man Tangled Up in Christmas Decorations by Al Brule

And lastly for this list, Man Tangled Up in Christmas Decorations by Al Brule.  I kind of feel like this is me anytime I try to string lights on a full size tree (lately I opt for a mini tree).  Elmo Alfred “Al” Brulé Jr. was an American painter and illustrator; he was well known for his work creating pin-ups for Esquire calendars.  

 

Do you have a favorite piece of Christmas art?

There were so many different ones that I came across while researching (much more than I had time to include).  Do you have a favorite from this post?  Do you have one that you’d want to add to the list? Leave me a comment and let us know!

Resources & Further Learning

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Schongauer
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Domenico_Ghirlandaio
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geertgen_tot_Sint_Jans
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sandro_Botticelli
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Mystical_Nativity
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albrecht_D%C3%BCrer
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adoration_of_the_Magi_(D%C3%BCrer)
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pieter_Bruegel_the_Elder
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Census_at_Bethlehem
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hunters_in_the_Snow
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caravaggio
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adoration_of_the_Shepherds_(Caravaggio)
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerard_van_Honthorst
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viggo_Johansen
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pablo_Picasso
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salvador_Dal%C3%AD
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norman_Rockwell
  • https://www.artsy.net/article/the-art-genome-project-the-complex-meaning-behind-one-of-christmas-s-most-enduring-symbols
  • https://www.artsy.net/tag/nativity
  • https://news.artnet.com/art-world/top-10-christams-artworks-393582
  • https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2014/dec/24/artworks-that-define-christmas-in-pictures
  • https://www.openculture.com/2019/12/when-salvador-dali-created-christmas-cards-that-were-too-avant-garde-for-hallmark-1960.html
  • https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-hallmark-once-gave-works-rockwell-dali-masses
  • https://remodernreview.wordpress.com/2018/12/24/artists-salvador-dalis-surreal-christmas-cards/
  • https://www.hallmarkartcollection.com/creatively-thinking/stories/dali-at-hallmark/
  • https://www.wired.com/2015/12/norman-rockwell-christmas-holiday-photographs/

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