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Miniature - The Nativity
  • The Nativity
    Bourdichon, Jean, born 1457 - died 1521
  • Enlarge image

The Nativity

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    France (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1498 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Bourdichon, Jean, born 1457 - died 1521 (painter (artist))

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Ink on parchment with watercolour and gold

  • Credit Line:

    Purchased with the assistance of the National Heritage Memorial Fund and Art Fund

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level F, case BECK, shelf 2, box 27

This miniature painting of The Nativity originally formed part of a richly decorated prayer book. This is traditionally known as the 'Hours of Henry VII'. The manuscript may have belonged to Mary Tudor, the daughter of King Henry VII of England (ruled 1485–1509) and the third wife of Louis XII of France (ruled 1498–1515).

The artist, Jean Bourdichon, was official painter to four successive French kings, including Louis XII. In The Nativity he has rendered divine light in gold, but has used a whitish-yellow for the earthy light of Joseph's lamp. This dramatic use of lighting illustrates the belief that the newly born Christ Child 'radiated such an ineffable light and splendour, that the sun was not comparable to it, nor did the candle . . . give any light at all, the divine light totally annihilating the material light'.

Physical description

Miniature painting in tempera on vellum depicting The Nativity.

Place of Origin

France (made)


ca. 1498 (made)


Bourdichon, Jean, born 1457 - died 1521 (painter (artist))

Materials and Techniques

Ink on parchment with watercolour and gold

Marks and inscriptions

O God, come to my assistance; O Lord, make haste to help me.
Psalm 69, verse 2.


Height: 24.3 cm, Width: 17 cm

Descriptive line

Jean Bourdichon (ca 1457-1521); The Nativity; ca 1500; miniature painting in tempera on vellum

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

Burgio, L., Clark, R, J, H., and Hark, R., "The Bourdichon Natibity: A Masterpiece of light and colour", inV&A Conservation Journal Autumn 2009/10, number 58, pp.36-37.


Parchment; Ink; Watercolour

Subjects depicted



Christianity; Christmas; Paintings


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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