Hughes painting of the nativity is unusual in its depiction of Mary as an adolescent; she is traditionally portrayed as a fully-grown woman. Here, Hughes shows her undertaking one of her first duties as a mother, wrapping her child in swaddling bands, an act which prefigures his entombment. The tenderness and care with which she carries out her task further reminds us of her youth and, that as a first time mother, she has much to learn in order to look after the infant Christ. Despite her bewildering predicament she is aided by two angels and watched by three others from above. Their presence highlights the fact that she is not alone and that both mother and baby will be watched over by God.Hughes has used a vivid palette of purple and pinks to paint the celestial figures. Their wings almost burst out of the picture frame creating a sense of dynamism within the composition, but also giving a sense of the cramped, intimate space in which the miracle of Christ's birth took place. Although Mary, as the central figure, dominates the painting Hughes draws are attention to the Christ child, the most important figure, by crowning him in a nimbus, a style of halo favoured in Renaissance paintings. In 1858 Hughes sent 'The Nativity' and its companion piece 'The Annunciation' to the Royal Academy, however, only the former was hung. Ruskin noted in his review of the exhibition 'I happen to know that ['The Nativity'] was hastily finished' but this did not stop him from declaring it 'quite beautiful in thought, and indicative of greater colourist's power than anything in the rooms' ('Academy Notes, 1858' in John Ruskin, 'Complete Works,' 1904, vol. 14, pp. 162-163). Both paintings were later bought by the Newcastle industrialist James Leathart (1820-1895) who also owned Ford Madox Brown's 'Pretty Baa-Lambs' (1956P9) and Burne-Jones 'The Merciful Knight' (1973P84).

  • Purchased, 1891.
  • © Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery


Association Artist Organisation
Artist Arthur Hughes -


Catalogue No. Venue Date(s)
284 Royal Academy 1858 - 1858
Special Loan Collection of Modern Pictures
169 City of Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery 1891-10-02 - 1892-01
Special Loan Exhibition of Pictures of the British School
2, Gallery D Nottingham Castle Museum & Art Gallery 1896-11 - 1896-11
Loan Exhibition of Works by Ford Madox Brown and the Pre-Raphaelites
249 City of Manchester Art Gallery 1911-09-14 - 1911-11-30
Loan Collection of Works by English Pre-Raphaelite Painters lent by the Art Committee of the Birmingham Corporation
21 National Gallery of British Art (now Tate Britain, London) 1911-12 - 1912-03
Paintings and Drawings of the 1860 Period
101 National Gallery of British Art, London 1923-04-27 - 1923-07-29
Inaugural Exhibition
112 Leamington Art Gallery 1928 - 1929
Exposition Rétrospective de Peinture Anglaise (XVIIe et XVIXe)
90 Musée Moderne, Brussels 1929-10-12 - 1929-12-01
Christian Arts Festival
- Graves Art Gallery, Sheffield 1955-10 - 1955-11
Paintings and Drawings from the Leathart Collection
44 Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne 1968-10-07 - 1968-11-16
Il sacro e il profano nell' arte dei simbolisti
45 Galleria Civica d'Arte Moderna, Torino 1969-07 - 1969-08
Death, Heaven and the Victorians
15 Brighton Art Gallery & Museum 1970-05-06 - 1970-08-03
Arthur Hughes: The Pre-Raphaelite Painter
- National Museum of Wales, Cardiff 1971-10-05 - 1971-10-24
- Leighton House, London 1971-12-03 - 1971-12-23
Pre-Raphaelite Art from the Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery
24 Hong Kong Museum of Art 1984-10-20 - 1984-12-02
Sacred Bond: Images of Motherhood
no cat. Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery 1990-09-22 - 1990-11-18
The Art of Seeing: John Ruskin and the Victorian Eye
no cat. no Phoenix Art Museum 1993-03-06 - 1993-05-23
no cat. no Indianapolis Museum of Art 1993-06-22 - 1993-29-08
Visions of Love and Life: Pre-Raphaelite Art from the Birmingham Collection, England
47 Seattle Art Museum, Seattle 1995-03-09 - 1995-05-07
47 Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio 1995-05-27 - 1995-07-16
47 Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington, Delaware 1995-08-11 - 1995-10-15
47 Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas 1995-11-04 - 1996-01-02
47 High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Georgia 1996-01-23 - 1996-04-10
47 Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery 1996-05-25 - 1996-09-29
The Pre-Raphaelites
39 Nationalmuseum, Stockholm 2009-02-26 - 2009-05-24


Author(s) Date(s) Publisher Pages
1 May 1858 - p. 471
8 May 1858 - p. 503
15 May 1858 - p. 659
The Times
22 May 1858 - p. 9
Art Journal
1858 - p. 166
Notes on Some of the Principal Pictures Exhibited in the Rooms of the Royal Academy
John Ruskin 1858 Smith Elder, London pp. 22-23
15 March 1862 - p. 368
'English Painters of the Present Day'
William Michael Rossetti August 1870 Portfolio p. 114
13 September 1873 - p. 344
20 September 1873 - p. 374
10 October 1891 - p. 491
2 January 1892 - p. 30
Magazine of Art
1892 - p. 214; repr. p. 215
Dante Gabriel Rossetti and the Pre-Raphaelite Movement
Esther Wood 1894 Sampson Low Marston, London p. 205
Loan Collection of Works by English Pre-Raphaelite Painters lent by the Art Committee of the Birmingham Corporation
1911 National Gallery of British Art p. 8
'Mr A Hughes: Last of the Pre-Raphaelites'-obituary
Anonymous 23 December 1915 The Times p. 6
'April Love' - 'A Note' and 'Monthly Chronicle'
Robert Ross February 1916 Burlington Magazine p. 204
'The Last of the Pre-Raphaelites: Reflections on a Memorial Exhibition of Paintings by the late Arthur Hughes'
Anonymous November 1916 Vogue p. 55
The Dictionary of National Biography
Malcolm Bell 1927 Oxford University Press, Oxford pp. 275-276
Pre-Raphaelite Painters
John Gere, Robin Ironside 1848 Phaidon, London p. 43; repr. pl. 69
Il sacro e il profano nell' arte dei simbolisti
1969 Galleria Civica d'Arte Moderna, Torino repr. p. 41
A Pre-Raphaelite Circle
Raleigh Trevelyan 1978 Chatto and Windus, London p. 140
John Ruskin: Letters from the Continent 1858
John Hayman 1982 University of Toronto Press, Toronto pp. 123-124
Pre-Raphaelite Art from the Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery
Mr Richard Lockett 1984 Urban Council, Hong Kong repr. p. 71
The Art of Seeing: John Ruskin and the Victorian Eye
1993 Phoenix Art Museum, USA repr. fig. 112
Visions of Love and Life: Pre-Raphaelite Art from the Birmingham Collection, England
Stephen Wildman 1995 Art Services International, Alexandria, Virginia repr. p. 173
Arthur Hughes: His Life and Works
Leonard Roberts 1997 Antique Collectors' Club No. 37, p. 142; repr. pl. 22
The Pre-Raphaelites
2009 Nationalmuseum, Stockholm cat.39, p.168


Thomas Edward Plint; Plint sale, Christie's, 8 March 1862 (283), bought-in at 40 gns. by Smith (Plint's executors); bought from them c1862 by James Leathart; bought from him in 1891 by Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery.

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