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Oil painting - The Annunciation to the Shepherds
  • The Annunciation to the Shepherds
    Bassano il Vecchio, Jacopo
  • Enlarge image

The Annunciation to the Shepherds

  • Object:

    Oil painting

  • Place of origin:

    Italy (possibly, painted)

  • Date:

    17th century or 18th century (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Bassano il Vecchio, Jacopo (after)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    oil on cedar panel

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by Constantine Alexander Ionides

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Jacopo del Ponte called Bassano (1510-1592) was born in Bassono near Venice and trained in his father's workshop before studying in Venice under Bonifazio de' Pitati (1487-1553). He then returned to Bassano to work in his father's workshop until his death in 1539. He later travelled often to Venice and maintained close friendship with the great masters of this time such as Jacopo Tintoretto (1519-1594), Annibale Carracci (1560-1609) and Paolo Veronese (1528-1588). Among his pupils were his sons Leandro, Francesco, Giambattista and Gerolamo.

This painting is a copy after a well-know composition by Jacopo Bassano, which was very popular since its execution around 1555-60. The artist, who was researching new iconographic solution, focuses here on the intense moment of the angelic announcement of Christ's birth, an episode from the New Testament intensified by the dramatic use of light and shadow and the inclusion of a naturalistic setting.

Physical description

In a moonlit landscape, a family group assists to the apparition of an angel in a halo of light: a woman seen from the back is milking a cow while a shepherd on the left is resting with a pipe in his mouth; another shepherd stands behind him, his head turned towards the angel. Two boys with sheep and goats are behind the cow.

Place of Origin

Italy (possibly, painted)


17th century or 18th century (painted)


Bassano il Vecchio, Jacopo (after)

Materials and Techniques

oil on cedar panel


Height: 34 cm estimate, Width: 31.7 cm estimate, :

Object history note

C.A. Ionides purchased the painting on 26/02/1883, for £10, in Venice (his inventory, private collection). Bequeathed by Constantine Alexander Ionides, 1900.

Ref: Basil S. Long, Catalogue of the Constantine Alexander Ionides collection.Vol. 1, Paintings in oil, tempera and water-colour, together with certain of the drawings, London : Printed under the authority of the Board of Education, 1925.
C. Monkhouse, 'The Constantine Ionides Collection' in Magazine of Art, vii, 1884, pp. 36-44, 208-214.

The collection formed by Constantine Ionides includes works of a wide variety of schools, periods and artists. His collection includes Old Masters, 17th century works, contemporary British works and French 19th century works. Constantine formed friendships with artists of the day, especially Legros, who, having spent 17 years in Britain, became a naturalise British citizen. Constantine proved a stable and generous buyer of Legros work, while Legros, in turn, became an advisor in the matters of art to the attentive Constantine. Under the influence of Legros Constantine developed a keen interest in French 19th century paintings purchasing works by Delacroix, Degas, Millet and Rousseau.

Constantine's plans concerning his collection conformed to a more 'public-welfare' vein of thought than his father or brother. He decided to donate his collection to the Victoria & Albert Museum, instead of privately distributing it or disposing of it in a Sales room.

His will states:

'All my pictures both in oil and water colors and crayon or colored chalks (but subject as to my family portraits to the interest herein before given to my said Wife) and all my etchings drawings and engravings to the South Kensington Museum for the benefit of the nation to be kept there as one separate collection to be called "The Constantine Alexander Ionides Collection" and not distributed over the Museum or lent for exhibition. And I desire that the said Etchings Drawings and Engravings shall be framed and glazed by and at the expense of the authorities of the Museum so that Students there can easily see them.'

The collection bequeathed to the museum in 1901 comprises 1138 pictures, drawing and prints, to which a further 20 items were added on the death of his widow in 1920. The works are listed in the V&A catalogue of the Constantine Alexander Ionides collection.

Historical significance: This painting is a copy after Jacopo Bassano's Annunciation to the shepherds that witnesses Jacopo's research for new religious iconography. A popular composition that was much copied and of which several versions are known. The original composition is believed to be the version in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, but other versions, partially executed with the help of his assistants, can be found in the Galleria dell'Accademia di. S. Luca, Rome, in the Musée du Louvre, Paris, in the Musée des Beaux Arts, Chambéry, in Belvoir Castle, Leicestershire as well as in several private collections, while another copy is held by the Asmolean Museum, Oxford. A larger version with additional figures on the right hand-side is preserved in the Kunstsammlungen, Kassel.
The present painting is an exact copy of the Washington version and shows the announcement of Christ's birth by an angel (Luke, 2:9-11) appearing to a family group with animals in a moonlit landscape. A woman seen from the back is milking a cow while a shepherd on the left hand-side is resting with a pipe in his mouth; another shepherd stands behind him, his head turned towards the angel. Two boys with sheep and goats are behind the cow. A technical examination of the painting reveals that it may have been executed during the late 17th or early 18th centuries.
This painting is a good example of Bassano's mature period, around 1555-60 when his style recalls that of Tintoretto especially in the use of exaggerated figures, agitated drawing and strong shadows. The composition focuses on the different reactions of each family member before the angelic apparition in a dramatic atmosphere intensified by the chiaroscuro of the moonlight and the halo of light surrounding the angel. The whole painting assumes a naturalistic aspect, which is underlined by the presence of the animals and the involvement of the figures in a daily activity. This painting appears as one of his first explorations of landscape and pastoral, in which Jacopo's merging of the biblical narrative with a pastoral scene witnesses his research for new religious iconography.

Historical context note

History painting, i.e. depictions of non recurring events based on religious, classical, literary or allegorical sources, particularly developed in Italy during the Renaissance (15th-16th centuries). History painting could include religious themes, or depictions of momentous recent events, but the term was most frequently associated with Classical subject-matter. However a renewed impetus was given to religious subjects after the Council of Trent (1545-63), which stipulated new iconographical programmes. The development of art treatises, in which the compositional rules guiding the art of painting were discussed also notably, influenced the evolution of history painting. From around 1600 history painting's principal rivals: still-life, landscape and genre painting began to emerge as independent collectable genres. Furthermore, the Rococo taste for the ornamental in the early 18th century prioritised the decorative quality of history painting, so that subject matters became more entertaining than exemplary. There was a renewed interest in history painting during the Neo-Classical period after which the taste for such pictures faded towards the end of the 19th century when an innovative approach to the image was led by the Symbolists and was developed further by subsequent schools in the early 20th century.

Descriptive line

Oil painting, 'The Annunciation to the Shepherds', after Jacopo Bassano, 17th or 18th century

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Kauffmann, C.M. Catalogue of Foreign Paintings, I Before 1800, London, Victoria and Albert Museum, 1973, p. 19-20, cat. no. 15.
'Additions to the National Collections' in Athenaeum, July 1904, p. 119.
B.S. Long, Catalogue of the Constantine Alexander Ionides collection. Vol. 1, Paintings in oil, tempera and water-colour, together with certain of the drawings, London, 1925, p. 3
B. Berenson, Italian pictures of the Renaissance, 1932, p. 57.
B. Berenson, Venetian School, 1957, p. 18.
E. Arslan, I Bassano, 1931, p. 113; 1960, p. 349.


Oil paint; Cedar


Oil painting

Subjects depicted

Shepherds; Angel; Sheep; Goat; Cows; Moonlight; Woman




Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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