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Adoration of the Shepherds

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Adoration of the Shepherds (circa 1605-10) by El Greco.
The Adoration of the Shepherds (circa 1605-10) by El Greco.
Adoration of the Shepherds by Domenico Ghirlandaio, 1485.
Adoration of the Shepherds by Domenico Ghirlandaio, 1485.
Adoration of the Shepherds by Matthias Stom, c. 1635–40.
Adoration of the Shepherds by Matthias Stom, c. 1635–40.
Adoration of the Shepherds by Giorgione, 1510.
Adoration of the Shepherds by Giorgione, 1510.

The Adoration of the Shepherds, in the Nativity of Jesus in art, is a scene in which shepherds are near witnesses to the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, arriving soon after the actual birth. It is often combined in art with the Adoration of the Magi, in which case it is typically just referred to by the latter title. The Annunciation to the Shepherds, when they are summoned by an angel to the scene, is a distinct subject.

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  • ✪ June - Adoration of the Shepherds
  • ✪ El Greco, Adoration of the Shepherds
  • ✪ Close Examination: Adoration of the Shepherds | Exhibitions | The National Gallery, London


(music) ("In The Sky With Diamonds" by Scalding Lucy) Heather: We're here at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. and we're standing in front of this painting by Giorgione. Mark: It depicts the Adoration of the Shepherds. We see two shepherds in the front kneeling with Joseph and Mary in front of the Christ child who lays on the ground. Heather: When you think about a scene of the Adoration of the Shepherds, when the shepherds follow this star, this is the moment when they first recognized Jesus is special. He's divine. That's the moment they're showing here, but we're used to seeing it in a hierarchical, symmetrical way. Mary and Jesus get private place. Here they're pushed to the right and we've got the shepherds in the center and a full [unintelligible] panel taken up by the landscape. Mark: I think what's interesting for this picture and what sets the tone for it is its quietness in their amazement. Heather: Their postures are so focused and so meditative. It makes you think of a people in the Renaissance in Venice who would have looked at this painting and mimicked that posture. They're both guides and they're also imitating what's happening outside the picture. Mark: I like that idea of imitation because we look at the shepherd with the ragged sleeve, the green bodice ... Heather: Because these are shepherds, right? Their clothes are torn, they wear simple shoes. Mark: But look at his hands and then look at the Virgin Mary's hands and you can see that he's actually imitating her. [unintelligible] other his other son and the fingers together, so this idea of Venetians emulating the shepherds in the same way the shepherds have emulated the Virgin Mary. I think this makes that really nice parallel. Heather: And then we've got Joseph who's a little bit off to the side and that's important because Joseph isn't Jesus' father. That role goes to God. Mark: It's almost like he also is trying to figure out the hand placement. His thumbs aren't quite together yet, he too, is participating, but at a remove. Heather: That's interesting. It's like they're learning to worship. This is that first moment when Jesus' divinity is recognized and they're starting to figure it out. Mark: So why don't we talk about the background a bit. Heather: Yes, this gorgeous landscape full of really precise botanical specimens we've got. Laurel in the foreground and all sorts of other trees that are precisely rendered. Mark: This sort of the diffuse evening sunlight that seems to be increasingly low on the horizon striking the sides of those buildings more than it does the top of the tower under construction because there's this play between the preciseness of the details and the sense of atmosphere. Heather: That softness leads to the serenity so that the setting is perfectly married to the subject of the shepherds. This is where they work. This landscape is their world. You can really see how Giorgione's a master with oil paint here, especially in the middle ground. Mark: Especially where the conduits flashes down and there's that little lick of white paint that comes up there. I think when we talk about the advantages of oil paint, one of them is color and if we look at the central group, and we still have to look at these color harmonies, that green of the kneeling shepherd. Heather: But look at how the shepherd is in red and blue and white; and then Mary is in red and blue and white. It's another place where we see Giorgione carefully balancing his picture and creating this union between the holy people and the worshippers. Mark: I think the other place we can see it is that robe that Joseph is wearing, this spectacular robe that defies gravity ... Heather: Yes, like a nice edged curve. Mark: Yeah. It's just absolutely amazing color, that orange. Heather: It shines. Mark: And it's actually a brand new pigment that was being developed and actually marketed by Venetian oil paint sellers. Heather: When you think about an Adoration of the Shepherds as pendant to a scene where you have magi, or the three kings, a type of painting that's full of rich jewels and rich fabrics and all sorts of luxury, this is really something different, and yet these people have nobility. They have recognized something special here. (music) ("In The Sky With Diamonds" by Scalding Lucy)


Biblical narrative

The Adoration of the Shepherds is based on the account in the Luke 2, not reported by any other Canonical Gospel, which states that an angel appeared to a group of shepherds, saying that Christ had been born in Bethlehem, followed by a crowd of angels saying Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth to [people] of good will. This Annunciation to the shepherds forms a distinct subject in Christian art and is sometimes included in a Nativity scene as a peripheral feature (even though it occurs prior to the adoration itself), as in the 1485 scene by Domenico Ghirlandaio, where it can be seen in the upper left corner. Ghirlandaio also shows a procession of Magi about to arrive with their gifts.

The shepherds are then described as hurrying to Bethlehem to visit Jesus, and making widely known what they had been told concerning him, before they finally return to their flocks. They praise God for "all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them," (Luke 2:20). Robert Gundry notes that the statement "appeals to eyewitness testimony combined with heavenly revelation."[1]

In art

The scene is very commonly combined with the Adoration of the Magi, which makes for a balanced composition, as the two groups often occupy opposite sides of the image space around the central figures, and represent the theological interpretation of the episode where the two groups, Jewish and gentile, represented the peoples of the world between them.[citation needed] This combination is first found in the 6th century Monza ampullae made in Byzantine Palaestina Prima.

In Renaissance art, drawing on classical stories of Orpheus, the shepherds are sometimes depicted with musical instruments.[2] A charming but atypical miniature in the La Flora Hours in Naples shows the shepherds playing to the Infant Jesus, as a delighted Virgin Mary stands to one side.

Many artists have depicted the Adoration of the Shepherds. Famous examples include:

Christmas carols

Several well-known Christmas carols mention the adoration of the shepherds. Some of these do so along the lines of urging the listener to come to Bethlehem such as the "Shepherd's Pipe Carol". The modern "Calypso Carol" has the lines "Shepherds swiftly from your stupor rise / to see the Saviour of the world," and the chorus "O now carry me to Bethlehem." "Angels We Have Heard on High" says, "Come to Bethlehem and see / Him Whose birth the angels sing."

O Come, All Ye Faithful (Adeste Fideles in the original Latin version) has a verse which runs:

See how the shepherds,
Summoned to His cradle,
Leaving their flocks, draw nigh to gaze;
We too will thither
Bend our joyful footsteps.

Other carols which mention the adoration of the shepherds include Silent Night; What Child Is This?; Infant Holy, Infant Lowly; I Wonder as I Wander; and O Come, Little Children. The German carol Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her ("From heaven above to earth I come") contains several stanzas on the subject of following the shepherds and celebrating the newborn baby. The Czech carol Nesem vám noviny ("Come, all ye shepherds") concerns the adoration of the shepherds; the middle verse of Mari Ruef Hofer's English version runs:

Hasten then, hasten to Bethlehem's stall,
There to see heaven descend to us all.
With holy feeling, there humbly kneeling,
We will adore Him, bow down before Him,
Worship the King.[3]

Gallery of art

Events in the
Life of Jesus
according to the Gospels
Life of Jesus


P christianity.svg Christianity

Wikipedia book Book:Life of Jesus

See also


  1. ^ Robert H. Gundry, A Survey of the New Testament (4th ed., Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 218.
  2. ^ Earls, Irene, Renaissance Art: A topical dictionary, Greenwood Publishing Group, 1987, ISBN 0-313-24658-0, p. 18.
  3. ^ The Cyber Hymnal: Come, All Ye Shepherds

Further reading

  • Levey, Michael (1961). From Giotto to Cézanne. Thames and Hudson,. ISBN 0-500-20024-6.
  • Beckwith, John (1969). Early Medieval Art. Thames and Hudson. ISBN 0-500-20019-X.
  • Myers, Bernard (1965, 1985). Landmarks of Western Art. Hamlyn. ISBN 0-600-35840-2.
Adoration of the Shepherds
Preceded by
Annunciation to the Shepherds
New Testament
Succeeded by
Circumcision of Jesus
This page was last edited on 26 December 2018, at 19:42
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