A Florence Museum Nativity Scene Itinerary

With the Uffizi Gallery reopening exceptionally after Christmas on December 26, followed by other city museums on December 27, ’tis the season to follow a Nativity scene itinerary to admire paintings, sculptures and stained glass masterpieces created by artistic masters down the ages.  The Uffizi Gallery will be additionally open on January 1 with free admission.

As shown below, the Nativity scene and the Adoration of the Shepherds was a popular topic among Renaissance and Baroque artists and their patrons. Around Florence there many different types of artistic imagery to be seen on the theme.

An Adoration of the Child can be found in the Uffizi by Gerrit van Honthorst (known as Gherardo delle Notte in Italian) in the Uffizi. The Dutch painter was known for his mastery of light and “sfumato” (blending of tones) in his compositions. It is apparent the influence that chiaroscuro master Caravaggio had on him. Present in the painting is the Madonna, two angels, and the Christ child, who is the source of light in the work.

Also in the Uffizi, another of the most endearing images is Correggio’s Adoration of the Christ Child.

Another beautiful piece in the Uffizi is the Adoration of the Christ Child by Filippo Lippi. It is a tempera painting which has a very interesting atmospheric perspective that surrounds figures. In the image Mary is on her knees by Christ and there is also the presence of divine trinity. Immediately above Christ is the Holy Spirit depicted as a dove and the heavenly Father depicted as hands that come from the sky.

The intricate triptych by Hugo van der Goes that portrays the Adoration of the Shepherds completes the Nativity tour in the Uffizi. Van der Goes is considered one of the greatest Flemish painters of his time often being compared to Jan Van Eyck. This triptych was originally intended as an altarpiece for the Sant’Egidio Church and it was commissioned by Tommaso Portinari. This painting shows how artistic techniques from the north began to influence aspects of Italian art in the late 15th century. When the altarpiece is closed the exterior panels can be seen which depicts the Annunciation. When the triptych is open the viewer can see the Nativity scene. The Virgin Mary, angels, and three shepherds surround the newborn child.

In Palazzo Pitti there is another painting depicting the Adoration of the Shepherds by Livio Mehus. It is usually not on display but exhibited during festivities in Galleria Palatina. In this image the holy family and Jesus can be seen surrounded by shepherds and peasants. The painting is smaller in size which suggests it was for an intimate setting. Like Correggio and van Honthorst there is a typical use of a night setting in the painting with light emanating from Christ which illuminates the scene.

Another Nativity scene is frescoed onto the walls of the monastery of San Marco by artist Fra Angelico. This nativity scene is more recognizable as we see not only Mary, saints, angels, and Christ but also a stable, ox and donkey. Vasari wrote that Angelico was “a rare and perfect talent.” This piece is an example of Early Renaissance techniques. While the medieval style of flat halos are present, there is some understanding of three-dimensional perspective.


In the Florence Cathedral Paolo Uccello’s 1443 stained glass window also shows the more traditional version of the Nativity scene. Like Fra Angelico’s depiction, it is complete with a ox, donkey, and stable.


Other Nativity scenes in the Duomo include a life-sized version displayed outside as well as another artistic version displayed inside the church. The one in front of the cathedral was made out of handcrafted terracotta pieces by Luigi Mariani.

The Nativity scene inside the Duomo

A historical “Presepe”(the Italian word for Nativity scene) is currently displayed in the Palazzo Vecchio museum. Visitors can see the Camoggiano Presepe by Renaissance sculptor Benedetto Buglioni in the Audience hall. Normally these are located in the Diocesan Museum of Santo Stefano al Ponte. (Michela Tambasco)