Piero has set the Christmas story in his own time. The flat land on top of the hill where they stand evokes Tuscany, as does the winding valley to the left. Meanwhile the skyline on the right, dominated by the basilica, could almost be the outskirts of Piero's home town Borgo Sansepolcro. The painting shows the impact of Northern European painting. Piero painted with tempera early in his career, but for later works, like this one, he began working in oil. Along with the use of brown under-painting for the figures, this shows a familiarity with Netherlandish and Flemish works. This is reinforced by the slim figure of Christ, who lacks the square muscularity of contemporary depictions from Italy, and is more reminiscent of paintings by artists like Hugo van der Goes. Piero has also experimented with perspective. It is the only one of his works that shows a building askew from the rest of the composition: this is the simple shed, which reminds the viewer of Christ's humble beginnings. It is possible that this panel was never completed. It has certainly been damaged, possibly by the work of a 19th-century restorer. Nevertheless, the painting holds more than enough detail to give a sense of a complete composition, one which is likely to have been among the last the artist created.
oil on panel • 124.4 x 122.6 cm