Philadelphia Museum of Art
In William Blake’s The Nativity, a tiny Christ appears leaping in a blast of light, outshining the paler light of the star of the Nativity outside (both are cruciform, thus strengthening the comparison), as the embodiment of vital, illuminating energy. He is leaping away from his mother, who swoons into Joseph’s arms, and towards the outstretched arms of Elizabeth who kneels opposite with John the Baptist in her lap.
Christ is often depicted as the source of light in images of the Nativity, but Blake’s idea of Christ as a leaping blaze is apparently unprecedented, breaking with the convention of depicting figures grouped adoringly around the infant.
The association of the advent of Christ with light here reflects the Johannine Prologue (the Gospel appointed for Christmas Daytime Mass in the Roman Lectionary) which refers to the coming of ‘the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world’ (John 1:9). It is the Baptist who bears witness to the Light (John 1:7-8), which could have influenced the inclusion of John and Elizabeth here.
NAIB, adapted by WT