Artist: Marten de Vos
Medium: Oil on Panel
Size: 106 x 75 cm
Location: O.-L. Vrouwekathedraal, Antwerp.
Luke 2:7: Then she placed him in a manger. There was no room for them in the inn.
The manger was a feeding trough for animals; sometimes these may have been built into the floor. The word traditionally translated as “Inn” may also mean “home” or “Guest room”; with all Joseph’s scattered family members returning home at once, it is easier for Mary to bear and care for a newborn in a livestock shelter outside.
In this painting the artist depicts three little angels kneeling with Mary and Joseph in worship of the newborn Child. The ox and the ass stand behind them. The ruin behind Joseph symbolizes the defeat of paganism by the coming of the Savior. The artist has made the symbolism even plainer by including a relief in the classical ruin - a recumbent female nude, possibly Venus, and several playful little naked figures. These represent the pagan world and 'impure', earthly love, as opposed to the divine love in which Christ was conceived.
Marten de Vos (1532–1603), also Maarten, was a leading Antwerp painter and draughtsman in the late sixteenth century. He spent some time in Italy, where he familiarized himself with the new art of the Renaissance. De Vos was also highly influenced by the colors of Venetian painting, and might have worked in the studio of Tintoretto. This is apparent in details like the lively poses, the realistic approach to the anatomy and the references to classical antiquity. The divided upper zone, one half containing an architectural setting and the other a deep landscape, was also typical of 16th-century Venetian art.