A Thousand Words

Benjamin West's The Nativity

Benjamin West chose an atypical format for his Nativity of 1792: tall and narrow, with the figures of the Holy Family compressed into a shallow space and dominated by the figure of the dramatically uplit angel. Mary cradles the child Jesus at the lower right, while a shadowy Joseph leans over protectively from the left. He holds a candle lantern, which he shields with his hand so that the flame, the sole source of light, is hidden from view. In front of him is a bushel measure, tipped over, and behind it, barely visible, a lamb. Above Mary and Joseph towers the angel, . . .

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Mary Elizabeth Podles is the retired curator of Renaissance and Baroque art at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. She and her husband Leon, a Touchstone senior editor, have six children and live in Baltimore, Maryland.

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more on art from the online archives

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