The Nativity Cycle in Western Art

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Narrative scenes of the life of Christ and the Virgin Mary were, by the Middle Ages, the most common images in Western art, and were found throughout the architecture of the church – pulpit, doors, altarpieces, and so on. These scenes were remarkable for their consistency of composition. The reason is that these scenes were meant to be “read” – to inform the Christian viewer of the life and teachings of Christ, to deliver a message of the authority of Christ and hence the church, and to provide spiritual sustenance. Images of the Nativity cycle are specifically illustrative, and include many narrative details. Significant among the narrative, symbolic images of the life of Christ are scenes concerning the birth of Jesus, and hence the birth of the Church. This Nativity cycle includes the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Nativity, the Annunciation to and Adoration of the Shepherds, and the Adoration of the Magi.