The Nativity
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Spitz Master
French, Paris, about 1420
Tempera colors and gold leaf on parchment
7 15/16 x 5 7/8 in.
MS. 57, FOL. 84

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The Nativity miniature opens Prime of the Hours of the Virgin, the customary position for this subject in books of hours. The text begins with a verse from Psalm 69, Deus in adiutorium meu[m] intende (God, come to my assistance). The anonymous artist known as the Spitz Master represented the Virgin Mary and Joseph kneeling in adoration before the baby Jesus, who is encircled by seraphim. Two shepherds humbly positioned behind a shed also kneel before the child. Above, surrounded by angels, God the Father raises his hand in blessing as rays of light fall on the child below. This holy group is contrasted with the figures worshipping a heathen idol in the distant landscape. The Spitz Master drew his basic composition from a Nativity miniature in a book of hours by the Limbourg Brothers, but he added to this the legend of the midwife Salome, who kneels behind the Virgin. She questioned the virgin birth of Jesus, and when she sought to examine Mary to test her doubts, her hands shriveled. Upon her recognition of Jesus as the Messiah, her hands were restored. The Spitz Master added a flying angel returning Salome's hands to her.