The Adoration of the Shepherds

Image credit: The National Gallery, London

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A group gathers around a manger to adore the newborn Christ. On the right, the Virgin Mary and Joseph gaze reverently at the infant, alongside two small angels. On the left are two young boys and an old, barefooted man: they are the shepherds mentioned in the Gospel of Luke (2: 8–20). This scene takes place in the ruins of a classical building rather than the stable described in the Bible, symbolising the decline of the old pagan world with the rise of Christianity.

We aren’t sure which of the three Le Nain brothers – Antoine, Louis and Mathieu – painted this picture, but it is one of the greatest produced by them. Made for private devotion in someone’s home, it combines refined elegance with carefully observed naturalistic detail: compare, for example, the beautiful, idealised Virgin with the older shepherd’s tattered clothes and dirty, wrinkled feet.

The National Gallery, London



The Adoration of the Shepherds


about 1640


Oil on canvas


H 109.2 x W 138.7 cm

Accession number


Acquisition method

Bought, 1962

Work type



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The National Gallery, London

Trafalgar Square, London, Greater London WC2N 5DN England

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