Baby Jesus Soothed with Bagpipes

The painting is Adoration of the Shepherds by the 17th-century master Domenichino.

The painting shows a fairly conventional depiction of this very common scene, with some unusual details. The number of shepherds is rather large at nine, and the pose of the shepherd pointing at the baby Jesus while looking over his shoulder outside the picture space suggests that more are arriving. Or possibly he has seen the approaching Magi, the next arrivals in the traditional narrative...

A prominently placed shepherd on the left side of the group is shown playing his bagpipes. Though the shepherds sometimes carry musical instruments, often including pipes, they are less often shown playing them at this solemn moment, as opposed to the earlier scene of the Annunciation to the Shepherds where an angel appears to them with their flocks. If music is shown being performed beside the crib it is more often by angels...

The inclusion of the shepherd's dog, especially right by the crib, is unusual, though the shepherds very often have one in scenes of their annunciation, and sometimes bring a lamb to the crib as a gift; here the dove held by the boy in the foreground is intended to represent a gift. In the 17th century the shepherds often crowd round the crib, as here, and Mary actively displays her child to them. However her gesture of lifting a cloth, revealing a full view of a naked Jesus, including his penis, is unusual in art by this date. In the late medieval period pictures of the infant Jesus often made a point of displaying his genitals for theological reasons*, but in the Counter-Reformation this was discouraged...


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