Talk:Nativity icon

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Rublev original?

I have my doubts that the tradition of this icon only extends to the 15th century. Surely Rublev didn't invent this... did he? —Fr. Andrew talk contribs (THINK!) 12:54, December 27, 2008 (UTC)

I agree, Fr Andrew. The french article suggest a lot more ancient typology: ---Inistea 13:28, December 30, 2008 (UTC)
Since this is not an article I am familiar with all I will do is offer the following weblink which will offer some further insight into other nativity icons painted prior to Rublev ... if someone is willing to incorporate this information into the article somehow it would be great - I dont want to touch another persons hard work. Vasiliki 22:02, December 30, 2008 (UTC)

Your investigation into the origins of Rublev's Nativity design interests me. I have recently 'discovered' Nicola Pisano and his work in the Baptistry at Pisa. He has a panel which has design elements which appear in Giotto's "Nativity, the Birth of Jesus" and in Rublev's "The Nativity". Here is a listing of the design elements and its inclusion by each artist:

The Annunciation (Pisano)
The Blessed Mother on the delivery mat (Pisano)(Giotto)(Rublev)(Coptic)
Jesus in a manger (Pisano)(Rublev)(Coptic)
A cave (Pisano)(Rublev)(Coptic)
St Joseph (Pisano)(Giotto)(Rublev)(Coptic)
An old man with staff (Rublev)(Coptic)
the midwives washing the baby Jesus (Pisano)(Rublev)(Coptic)
shepherd(s) (Pisano)(Giotto)(Rublev)(Coptic)
sheep (Pisano)(Giotto)(Rublev)(Coptic)
a donkey (Giotto)(Rublev)(Coptic)
a cow (Giotto)(Rublev)
angels (Pisano)(Giotto)(Rublev)(Coptic)
the Magi (Rublev)(Coptic)
the Light of the Holy Spirit (Rublev)(Coptic)

The image I am using for Rublev's "The Nativity" is Since I cannot read Russian, I am not sure if I am referencing a copy of his work or an original. By the way, there is another image on this website: which attributes a nativity icon to the VII-IX centuries. I have identified its design elements in the above comparison as "Coptic". After looking at it and finding out that it is in the St Catherine Monastery I think that Rublev was influenced by Coptic work from the South. I imagine that some example of the Coptic art made its way to Italy to influence Pisano/Giotto. --DUCKMARX 21:56, January 1, 2009 (UTC)

I'm no expert in iconography, but being surrounded by it every day, I can at least say that there's a lot more to tracing the origin of an icon type than just "design elements." The monastery on Mt. Sinai, for instance, though it does have plenty of Egyptian iconography in it, is not part of the Coptic church. So are its icons "Byzantine" (a broad term with centuries and many thousands of miles of possible meanings) or "Coptic"? Or something else? —Fr. Andrew talk contribs (THINK!) 19:27, January 2, 2009 (UTC)
There are so many libraries with rare papyrus images ... do any of these have images or prototype like sketches of Christs life including the nativity? They are probably not available on the Internet so it would have to be a really academic exercise ... I think Harvard University library website has some papers on this sort of stuff. Vasiliki 21:41, January 2, 2009 (UTC)
You are correct, 'there's a lot more to tracing the origin of an icon type than just "design elements."' My purpose in comparing the design elements was to explore my speculation that Rublev might have been influenced by works by Pisano and/or Giotto. What my little analysis tells me is that all three artists were influenced by a Nativity design that originated in Egypt.
Relative to 'Coptic Art' and 'Byzantine Art', there is at least one important fact and one respected authority that support the idea of refering to the Nativity icon in the St Catherine Monastery as 'Byzantine':
The fact: St Catherine's was commissioned by the Byzanitne Emperor, Justinian (527-565)
The authority: the Getty refers to icons in St Catherine's as Byzantine Art (
I was ready to accede to these but decided to investigate the idea of it being 'Coptic Art' further. This led me to learn that the Coptic Patriarch Cyril I (404-430 A.D.) authorized the use of icons as a visual means for teaching Christian doctrines ( All of this tenatively aligns with your conjecture "I have my doubts that the tradition of this icon only extends to the 15th century." I would not be surprised that if someone were to carry our the academic exercise that Vasiliki suggests they would find that the Nativity icon extends back to at least the 5th century (404-430).--DUCKMARX 01:06, January 4, 2009 (UTC)

Just as a note: St. Cyril of Alexandria is certainly venerated by the Coptic church, and he may well have been of Egyptian origin, but at least in terms of Church history, he's just as much a "Byzantine" patriarch as he is "Coptic," being a saint of both churches. —Fr. Andrew talk contribs (THINK!) 23:36, January 4, 2009 (UTC)

Thanks for the note. It helped me to learn that the House of Christianity began to divide against itself in 451 at the Council of Chalcedon. With Cyril of Alexandria dying only 7 years before (444), he may be the last sainted holy man of the One, holy, Universal, and Apostolic church. It could be argued that the Coptic Orthodox Church, with its emphasis on submission, simplicity, and humility which grew out of the traditions of the Dessert Fathers in Egypt is the One, holy, Universal, and Apostolic church. I am not going to argue that and only included that sentence to pull the 'Byzantine' string that you keep showing me. On the contrary, I think that the Eastern and Coptic Christian Churches and other denominations are doing the right thing by joining together to look for the common Bond of Christianity. (I hope that this is a true endeavor and not just for the sake of perceptions.)--DUCKMARX 07:44, January 6, 2009 (UTC)
There really never has been anything such thing as "Christianity," so to describe it as a divided "house" really doesn't do justice to its traditional self-understanding. Rather, there is simply the Church, and there are those who have divided themselves from (not within) the Church. None of the communions we are discussing understand themselves as "denominations."
(The question of the status of the communities that became distinct after Chalcedon is a somewhat more complicated issue.) —Fr. Andrew talk contribs (THINK!) 17:29, January 6, 2009 (UTC)
You know, we have strayed from our original topic. I appreciate your willingness to wrestle these ideas out, but I fear that we are tripping over our own personal meanings and prejudices. Some of these topics probably have threads of their own in OrthodoxWiki. I will look for topics like 'Christian' and 'Church' and 'Chalcedon' to see if I can join into their discussions.
In the meantime, back to the topic of "The Nativity", please let me know what you think about the possiblity that the icon design can be traced to the 4th or 5th century.--DUCKMARX 07:28, January 9, 2009 (UTC)