The Nativity

Media - 1971.91 - SAAM-1971.91_2 - 125880
Copied Edward B. Webster, The Nativity, 1956, oil on canvas mounted on paperboard, 21 7827 78 in. (55.570.8 cm.), Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase, 1971.91

Artwork Details

The Nativity
Not on view
21 7827 78 in. (55.570.8 cm.)
Credit Line
Museum purchase
Mediums Description
oil on canvas mounted on paperboard
  • Architecture Exterior — farm — barn
  • Religion — New Testament — Mary
  • Religion — New Testament — Nativity
  • Religion — New Testament — Magi
  • Religion — New Testament — Christ
  • Landscape — time — night
  • Landscape — celestial — star
  • Religion — New Testament — Joseph
Object Number

Artwork Description

The Nativity is one of twenty-two paintings depicting the life of Christ done by Edward Webster over a span of twenty years (Hall, "Postman to Painter," Sepia, Dec. 1971). The infant is the focal point of the scene, as the light from the star spotlights him through the wooden roof. The three Magi, freshly arrived from the East, leave their camels and rush toward the stable to share in this moment. The animals bow their heads and focus on the child as if they, too, recognize the solemnity of the event. The painting's composition mimics that of a stage performance: the artist left a space between Joseph and the Magi for the viewer to participate in the scene; our view of the stable's interior and the goings-on outside are completely unobstructed. The expressive figures and dramatic lighting enhance this theatrical effect.