Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

Birth of Mary

The story of the birth of the Virgin comes not from the Scriptures but from the apocryphal Gospel of James, probably written about AD 145. It tells that Anna and Joachim were infertile but prayed for a child and were promised that such a child would advance God’s plan of salvation of the world. Since at least the sixth century the Catholic Church has celebrated the event of Mary’s birth on September 8, and many great artists have later depicted it in their works. Among the earliest ones was Giotto di Bondone, the father of Florentine painting, whose fresco showing the Birth of the Virgin can be seen in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua. The Fresco was painted from 1304 to 1306 AD.

Baby Mary being given to her mother
Giotto, Scenes from the Life of the Virgin: 1. The Birth of the Virgin, Cappella Scrovegni (Arena Chapel), Padua

The event was also painted by the Master of the Life of the Virgin, a German artist active in Cologne from the 1460s to 1490. His work is now shown in the Alte Pinakothek in Munich.

Master of the Life of the Virgin, The Birth of Mary, Alte Pinakothek, Munich

The same scene was also painted by the Venetian Bartolomeo Vivarini (1474) and is now displayed in the Church of Santa Maria Formosa in Venice, where it constitutes the right side of the altar of Our Lady of Mercy). In both paintings St. Anne is seen handing the infant Mary to a midwife to be washed in a basin of water, adding a sense of domesticity to the scene.

Baby Mary being given to her mother
Vivarini, The Birth of Mary, Church of Santa Maria Formosa, Venice


All images are over one hundred years old and are in the public domain.



Summer 2016  |  Sections  |  Birth, Pregnancy, & Obstetrics

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