Carl Heinrich Bloch (1834-1890), The Nativity,1881, etching, 6 5/16 x 8 inches. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, purchased with funds provided by J. Robert and Lisa Wheatley, 2001.
A hanging lantern illuminates both mother and child in this hushed scene—a subject likely inspired by Rembrandt’s Adoration of the Shepherds. Two shepherds have come to see the newborn Savior, one bowing in adoration, the other beckoning to those lingering outside. Mary rests her hands on the infant Jesus’ bed, warmly acknowledging the humble worshippers; Joseph sits at the foot of the bed, grasping his staff as he assesses the visitors. This print is an extremely rare version of this etching, one of only four Bloch created from the original copper plate. A small finger print in the lower left corner is likely Bloch’s, as he typically printed his own trial proofs. Bloch was disappointed by the results of the acid-burned lines on the plate and its dark, murky tone. He destroyed the first plate and started etching on a new copper plate, from which he printed the final version. At this time, Bloch’s etchings had become so popular that the plates had to be reinforced with steel to enable more prints to be made.