This composition depicts one of the most pleasant episodes in the life of Christ. Set in the interior of a stable, the main motif of the scene—the Virgin with the Child—appears to the right of the composition. In the foreground, on the floor, ears of wheat allude to the Eucharist, while in the group on the left two characters looking directly at the viewer draw our attention: the standing man could be a self-portrait of the artist; he and the female figure kneeling in front of him could also be the donors of the painting, probably commissioned for a private chapel. A strong side light comes in from the left and creates a theatrical atmosphere, falling on one of the shepherds who stands out in the centre of the composition on account of his clothes, depicted in white and ultramarine. The X-ray of the painting reveals a pentimento by the artist, who had originally granted this character a pair of huge wings that he subsequently concealed, which would explain the impression of weightlessness of the figure. Some of the profiles, such as that of the Virgin Mary, the shepherd kneeling before the Child or St Joseph, who is painted monochromatically and remains in semi-darkness, evoke classical sculptures.
While the treatment of light in this work is a sign of the influence of Caravaggio, the artist can be classified as a follower of the classicist trend in French Baroque that sought inspiration in works from Classical times. Introduced by Simon Vouet upon his return from Italy in 1627, this style obtained a resounding success in Paris and its admirers included masters such as Poussin and the Le Nain brothers. [A.S.L.]
Jean-Pierre Cuzin. Figures de la réalité Caravagesques français : Georges de La Tour, les frères Le Nain.... Paris : Hazan; Institut National d´Histoire de l´Art, 2010, pp. 47y 49.
Ana Sánchez-Lassa. Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao : guía. Bilbao : Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao = Bilboko Arte Ederretako Museoa, 2011 (1ª ed. 2006; ed. inglés; ed. francés; ed. euskera), p. 75, n.º 53, ad vocem.