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The Nativity - 1887

The Nativity window – which was installed into the Cathedral in 1887, along with the Crucifixion window – represents the birth of Jesus.


The scene is set in a cave instead of the more recognised setting of a stable. There is some suggestion that this decision was inspired by Burne-Jones’s interest in medieval art in which the Nativity is more commonly represented in a cave. The cave divides the window in half, in a sinuous sweep which is mirrored by the curve of the group of angels above. At the feet of the angels is a flock of sheep, attended by a group of shepherds whom Burne-Jones has portrayed with expressions of shock and fear. Two of the three shepherds shield their eyes from the brightness of the angels. The trees behind the shepherds are painted in intricate detail and the leafless branches indicate the scene is set in the winter months.

As in the other windows, Burne-Jones has used typically bright, vibrant colours. The figures in the Nativity are clothed in jewel tones adding great warmth to the image. Mary the mother of Jesus kneels before the Christ child. Joseph and three angels stand to the right, bowing in reverence. The figures curve inwards, framing the delicate depiction of baby Jesus who is the focal point of the work. Swaddled in cloth, he is positioned on a stone above a shallow pool of water which heightens the vulnerability of the scene. The white of the cloth and halo of the Christ child contrast with the dank, dark interior of the cave, drawing attention to the purity and innocence of the infant.

Both the Nativity window and the Crucifixion windows were paid for by a wealthy Birmingham resident Emma Chadwick Villiers-Wilkes. She specifically requested that there should be no oxen in the Nativity scene, as she considered them to be too brutish. She also required that there should not be any blood in the Crucifixion scene.

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