Correggio - The holy night

by Alexandra Tuschka


Before the Sistine Madonna became the landmark of the Old Masters Picture Gallery in Dresden, there was another figurehead of the gallery: "The Holy Night" by the Italian Corregio.


On view is the altarpiece of the chapel of the church of San Prospero in Reggio Emilia. The Patronieri family had commissioned the work from Correggio in 1522. The altarpiece became the first monumental night piece of the theme of the Adoration of the Shepherds in Italy.

​It is unusual in many respects: some wildly overgrown steps in the foreground lead the eye to the main scene in the center of the picture, where the young Mary gazes lovingly at the baby Jesus. On the left are two shepherds and a shepherdess who shields her face from the glow of the child. Too brightly shines the Savior, who here in the literal sense brings light into the world.


This glow of light is also called the "sacral luminous light". This solution of the painter contributed significantly to the great fame of the painting. The newborn as a source of light illuminates the entire pictorial space. A shepherd is seen as a full figure in profile; his wooden shepherd's crook slightly diagonally draws a picture border. A dog bends its head out of the darkness into the picture. The shepherd behind has his arm resting blissfully on the manger. All the figures are offset and asymmetrically arranged. This composition already has a mannerist character.


Furthermore, the scene above is accompanied by a rushing crowd of angels. The middle section is framed by a monumental column and a ruined stone frame, which symbolize the stable. Through this the view is directed to a background scene. There one sees the aged Joseph, who keeps the donkey from curiously approaching the manger. Two angels behind it take care of the ox. A landscape bathed in evening light closes the picture background.


Correggio - The holy night

Oil on poplar wood, 1522/30, 256.5 x 188 cm, Old Masters Picture Gallery in Dresden