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The Christmas Story through Paintings at the National Gallery Caroline MacDonald-Haig Thursday 12 December 2019

London’s National Gallery is a marvellous place to see how artists have treated the Christmas story through the ages. The most beautiful images ever made are here.

The earliest paintings date from before the Reformation when the richest imagery and fabulous stories of the saints were much admired. Following the Counter Reformation in the middle years of the 16th century, Catholic art was stripped of these colourful stories derived from the Golden Legend, which were regarded often as superstitious fabrications. There was still a big demand for Christmas images for altarpieces, but now earthed in every day life, emphasising Emmanuel – God with us.

By way of contrast the Protestant north stripped churches of art. However there was a market from private patrons, especially in Holland, where artists like Rembrandt painted some of the most tender and moving interpretations the theme.

By choosing images from the 1260s up to the mid 1600s we also see how Western European art developed in Italy and the Netherlands.


Caroline is a Design and Decorative Arts journalist and author. A London Blue Badge Guide, specialising in themed tours for American Museums and Art Galleries. Her specialist subjects include the history of glass and London's history, galleries, museums and architecture. She is a freelance lecturer for Adult Education Groups. Enjoys devising tours, lecturing and study days based in and around London.