Typically around this joyous time of year Christmas and the holiday season is on everyone’s minds. This opens the doors for the various holiday decor such as Christmas tree lights, menorahs in windows, and, of course, the famous nativity scene popping up on the lawns and bookshelves around your neighborhood. The legend of the nativity and the birth of baby Jesus is well marked in art throughout history, but many depictions of the said event become overshadowed by the intense chiaroscuro and picturesque naturalism conveyed by the great European artists. Names such as Giotto and Caravaggio begin to consume the reputation of nativity art. Yet, the birth of Jesus did not occur in one place and one place alone with one solid description. This event took place in the hearts of individuals around the globe. Each culture has a unique way of depicting the famous nativity scene through art. In honor of the Twelve Days of Christmas, below are twelve depictions of the Nativity Scene around the world.

1. “Decorative Nativity” by Wisnu Sasongko

This beautiful piece was created in 2014 by an Indonesian artist, Wisnu Sasongko. Sasongko used Acrylic paint on canvas to create this gorgeously textured piece. Consuming the center of the composition is a stylized Joseph, Mary, and their newborn son; Jesus. Around the central figures dance beautifully delicate figures to convey the crowd of people and animals gathered on the day of the Christians savior’s birth. Sasongkos art strongly revolves around Christian subjects manor along with the artist’s own life experience. “In my work, I bring together all of my daily experiences, biblical reflection and artistic ideas. I include human forms and gestures to express the miracle of life… Christian art in the classical sense is over, which means that a renaissance is needed to develop a new iconography.”

2. “African Nativity” by Azaria Mbatha

Azaria Mbatha is a South African artist who created this work in 1964 as a linocut print. This Nativity Scene depicts the essential three figures, Joseph, Mary, and Jesus in the center of the composition with the north star iconically above the figures. The scene is surrounded by foliage and onlookers. Because the image is a linocut, the image is black with white details that formulate the image.

Because this technique is used by the artist is allowed to use implied line which adds depth and dimension while creating an interesting image for views to examine. Mbatha paved the way for South African art succeeding in the world. In 1965 he was awarded the Cambridge Shirt Award for one of his artworks and became the first African American to gain such award. In 1967 Mbatha’s art was accepted into the Museum of Modern Art in NY, NY becoming the first African American artist accepted to the museum.

3. “Ner Wiynmaiy” by Nanias Maira

Maria created his cultures depiction of the nativity scene in Papua New Guinea using a traditional color palette consisting of red, white, and black. In 2011 he was commissioned by Peter Brook to paint Bible stories in his traditional manner. This piece is mainly centered around Jesus who takes up the majority of the picture plane and is surrounded by a star. In the bottom of the piece resides three figures looking up at the newborn child above them. The figures are depicted in the traditional stylistic manner that is commonly seen in Papua New Guinea art.

4. “Nativity” by Sawai Chinnawong

Chinnawong is an artist from Thailand. His Nativity Scene was created in 2002 with oil on canvas. This piece depicts the famous scene in the traditional art style of Thai art. Chinnawong is mostly known for his portrayal of Christian themes in the traditional Thai graphic idiom inspired by art from central Thailand. “My work represents influences from many styles…I believe Jesus Christ is present in every culture, and I have chosen to celebrate his presence in our lives through Thai traditional cultural forms.”

5. Refujesus by Zeljko Uremovic


Zelijo Uremovic is a Croatian artist. This Nativity piece is a detail from a book collection with Boris Peterlin, entitled Refujesus. This book consists of a series of paintings portraying Jesus’s birth, flight to Egypt, and return to Israel.

6. John Giuliani, Guatemalan Nativity

John Giuliani created “Guatemalan Nativity” in the 1990s. Giuliani was born and raised in Greenwich, Connecticut. He gained a degree in fine arts from Pratt Institute but abandoned his career to become a Catholic priest. After many years, Giuliani picked up painting again and painted Christian icons with Native Americans as its subjects. “In my work I try to celebrate a union of a common spiritual understanding, to show how a single mystery can be approached through diverse cultures” “in depicting Christian saints as Native Americans are to honor them and to acknowledge their original spiritual presence on this land.”

7. He Qi, Nativity

He Qi created this Chinese nativity in 1998 using ink and gouache on rice paper. He Qi grew up in China’s cultural revolution. During his teenage years, he spent his time painting portraits of Chairman Mao after being sent away to a communal farm to erase his intellectualism. Secretly He Qi would paint portraits of Madonna to stay true to his Christian faith. This stylized depiction of the nativity scene includes vibrant colors and geometric shapes that develop an interesting composition.

8. Kristoffer Ardena, The Meaning of Christmas

Kristoffer Ardena is a Philippines artist. He created this work in 1995 using oil on canvas. This work combines his Filipino background with his Christian beliefs. His depiction consists of figures with Cartoon-like features to appeal to children as well. The racial composition is a demonstration of Ardenas painting style. Ardena prefers to paint on the floor while turning the canvas as he paints.

9. Greg Weatherby, Dreamtime Birth, 1990s? 51 x 64 cm

Greg Weatherby is an Aboriginal artist. He traces his Aboriginal heritage back to the south coast of New South Wales. In his art, he incorporates precise dot-work and cross-hatching techniques. This nativity scene, unlike the others seen, shows “the Great Ancestor’s omnipresent hands… presenting the divine gift to Aboriginal Spirit parents near legendary Uluru.” Weatherby intends to combine his aboriginal background with the Christian faith.

10. Joseph Mulamba-Mandangi, Nativity

Joseph Mulamba- Mandangi Is a Congolese artist. This artist uses Peinture grattée, or “Scratch paint” in this work. This piece combines traditional African art with Christian subject matter. This piece depicts many of the traditional icons in the nativity such as the star above Jesus and the ring of light surrounding the child’s head yet the color palette and the technique of the work demonstrate African influence.

11. Sadao Watanabe, Nativity

Sadao Watanabe’s “Nativity” is a Japanese interpretation. “Nativity” is a Stencil print on momigami paper. Watanabe bases his designs exclusively on Christian subject matter while its interpretation is filtered through a traditional Japanese style.

12. Hanna Varghese, God Is With Us

Hanna Varghese is a Malaysian artist. She created this work in 2006 using Acrylic on Canvas. Growing up, Varghese would go to different service every week to learn to appreciate the traditions of the Christian believers of different denominations. Varghese struggled with her Christian identity for in Malaysia, Christianity is the minority religion.

Written by the wonderful and talented intern, Dorothy Finney






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