This scene occupies its traditional position in a Book
of Hours, at the head of the third part of the Hours
of the Virgin, known as prime, the service for the first
hour of the day.
The Limbourgs had already represented the Nativity in the Belles Heures (folio 48v), in which the Virgin lies with her infant in her arms; here they have imaginatively renewed the same subject. The Virgin kneels in prayer before her Holy Son, who lies on a bed of straw, surrounded by cherubim.
The scene takes place at the threshold of the stable, whose doorway frames Mary and through whose damaged roof golden beams of light pass.
Joseph, with white hair and a flowing beard, kneels at the other side of the Child, struck with admiration before the miracle. To emphasize the oriental setting, the Limbourgs have given Joseph a peaked turban and have painted Arabic letters on the Virgin's mantle.
Anecdotal details embellish the picture: the traditional ox and as mentioned in the apocryphal gospel, De Nativitate Mariae et Infantia Salvatoris (The Birth of Mary and the Childhood of the Savior), shepherds leaning on the wicker fence to stare at the mysterious scene, and shepherds searching the skies for the celestial singers who proclaim the glory of God and peace on earth. Beyond, we glimpse the gates of a city with large buildings along a hillside.
At the top of the miniature, in the semicircle formed by the frame, is God the Eternal Father in heaven, surrounded by flaming seraphim. He holds a globe in His left hand and makes a sign of benediction with His right.
A golden shaft of light connecting His mouth with the Child below is symbolic of the Incarnation of the Word. With the dove flying in the rays, the miniature becomes a representation of the Trinity as well.
small image (20KB) --- large image (191KB) --- God the Father and the Holy Spirit (large) (225KB) --- Mary, the Child and Joseph (large) (224KB)