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Adoration of the Shepherds

Eustache Le Sueur (1875–1946), Adoration of the Shepherds, mid 17th century, oil on canvas, 38 1/2 x 53 1/4 inches. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, purchase/gift of Gloria Teichert with funds provided by Jack R. and Mary Lois Wheatley.


Le Sueur transforms the Judean shepherds’ worship of the newborn Christ into a moment of enlivened theatricality and symbolic import characteristic of Baroque-era painting. The earnest and devoted shepherds gaze at the rosy-cheeked baby; their postures convey both meek reticence and inquisitive awe. Wrapped in pure white, referencing His future shroud of burial, the Christ Child lies on an altar-like manger that alludes to His future sacrifice. Mary, draped in the blue robe of royalty, looks out to the viewer as she displays the infant Christ. Joseph stands behind, presenting the scene with a flourish of his hand. Massive stone pillars and brickwork, dilapidated and broken, replace the traditional hay-lined stable often envisioned in Nativity scenes and may be symbolic of the passing away of the Mosiac Law and the establishment of a new law through Christ.

An ox gazes out from the background—a theme of the Nativity first introduced in apocryphal scripture. Beaming child-angels, known as putti, emerge from the clouds overhead, observing the tender scene.

The Adoration of the Shepherds is exemplary of the French Baroque style. The synergy of rich color, elaborate ornamentation, energetic lines, and dynamic emotions creates a scene as imaginative as it is scriptural. Le Sueur was one of the foremost academic painters of his time. Admitted at a young age to the guild of master painters, he later became one of the founders of the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture in France. The Academy was established in 1648 under the rule of Louis XIV to educate and train artists towards a state-sponsored style based on classical precedents that would promote the monarchy and nation.

Curricular Resources

The MOA has created suggested discussion prompts and assignments for BYU CIV faculty and students to use. Each assignment is based on themes that correspond with GE learning outcomes.

View Curricular Resources Related to This Work:
17th Century France Religious Symbolism