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The Nativity, with midwife & Joseph/Annunciation to the Shepherds : Wissington, Suffolk(‡St. Edmundsbury & Ipswich) Late C.13

Photo: T.Marshall Nativity, with midwife & Joseph, Wissington [91KB]
A very rare scene, particularly in England, of the Virgin in bed at the Nativity. There may once have been many more like this, but I suspect that that as veneration for the Virgin grew ever higher in the later Middle Ages, conscious choices were made to show her at the Nativity in a more ‘decorous’ manner, as at Corby Glen (link below). The Virgin lies on the left, looking appropriately weary despite the insistence of theologians that she suffered no discomfort at the birth. Further right stands the midwife, in this case almost certainly Salome, who took Mary’s intact virginity on trust, unlike her ‘unbelieving’ companion Zalome, who once appeared at Corby Glen. Salome, her hair in a net, with a round cap tied under the chin, appears to be holding the infant Jesus. Beyond her is Joseph, chin propped on hand in a reflective manner. As with all the paintings at Wissington, an elaborate tabernacle-frame surrounds the scene. Annunciation to Shepherds, Wissington [48KB]

To the right (west) of the Nativity is the Annunciation to the Shepherds, in two scenes. At the left stands the angel, holding a scroll and with right arm raised to indicate the heavens. At the right, a shepherd, leaning on his crook, seems to be doffing his hat. He once had a small dog, visibly barking at the strange sight, but this has faded into invisibility. There may have been another shepherd beside him. The next scene to the right shows shepherds again, and the painter must have had a reason for presenting this in two separate scenes instead of one. Probably there was more going on in this second ‘moment’ than now appears. Only one shepherd again doffing his cap or shielding his eyes can be made out now, but there was originally at least one more. In the lower righthand corner are two sheep and, rearing up and facing rather pointedly in the opposite direction, a horned goat. Symbolic meaning (hardly needing elucidation) must surely be present here; it may well be a product of the painter’s own imagination and not a detail copied from elsewhere.

Several other paintings from Wissington are on the site, including the Adoration and Dream of the Magi (link below), with the Magi in bed this time, a St. Michael Weighing Souls, St. Francis Preaching to the Birds - probably the earliest representation of the saint in England, the remains of a Passion Cycle, and, newly on the site, Two Miracles of St. Nicholas.

Links to other Infancy Scenes
Annunciation to the Shepherds/Nativity, Ashampstead, Berkshire Nativity, Corby Glen, Lincs King Herod, with two Magi and other Nativity scenes, Corby Glen, Lincolnshire Nativity/Annunciation to the Shepherds, Wissington, Suffolk Adoration of the Magi, Black Bourton, Oxon.
Adoration of the Magi, Edstaston, Shropshire Nativity/Annunciation to the Shepherds, Faversham, Kent Adoration of the Magi/Presentation in the Temple, Faversham, Kent Adoration of the Magi, Heydon, Norfolk Adoration of the Magi, Pinvin, Worcs
Adoration of the Magi, Salisbury (St. Thomas) Wilts Adoration of the Shepherds/Magi, Thornham Parva, Suffolk Adoration of the Magi/Dream of the Magi, Wissington, Suffolk Three Magi, Burton Dassett, Warwicks. Massacre of the Innocents/Presentation in the Temple, Kelmscott, Oxon.
Flight into Egypt, Croughton, Northants Miracle of the Clay Birds, Shorthampton, Oxon. Baptism of Christ, Black Bourton, Oxon. Infancy Cycle, Brook, Kent Nativity scenes, with Annunication to Shepherds, Hardham, Sussex NEW

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9/12/2001

Anne Marshall 2001