We view the scene through a framing trompe l’oeil arch, likely inspired by the influence of Rogier van der Wyden’s similar compositions, such as his Miraflores Altarpiece (and interesting to compare to this “framed” walk-through composition by Antonello da Messina). The arch portrays a series of Biblical events, including stories from Genesis, and places the current event in the context of fall and redemption.
The figures, including four seemingly disinterested onlookers behind the ruined stable wall, are dressed in contemporary Flemish costume, and are viewed against a Flemish town, albeit with domed structures from Bethlehem and set amid rolling hills that might be neither location.
The event is attended by four angels, presented about one third human size, with strikingly bird-like wings, and dressed as sub-ministers of a 15th Century Northern European Mass.
The baby Jesus lies doll-like on the ground in the folds of Mary’s garments, central to everyone’s gaze, but otherwise not emphasized by the composition.
Petrus Christus was associated with early oil painting master Jan van Eyck, and may have succeeded him as master of his studio when he died in 1441. There is discussion, however, about whether he was actually Van Eyck’s student, as he shows as much influence from painters like Robert Campin and Rogier van der Weyden.
This painting of the Nativity is in the collection of the National Gallery in Washington.