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Triptych of the Nativity

 

Triptych of the Nativity

Author: Unknown

Date: 14th century, end – 15th century, beginning

Material: Gilt silver and enamel

Dimensions (cm): H 135 x W 175

Provenance: Guimarães, Colegiada de Nossa Senhora da Oliveira

Inventory No.: MAS O 52

The Triptych of the Nativity, also known as altarpiece or Nativity Scene, is one of the most emblematic pieces of the Museu de Alberto Sampaio.

It is a rectangular gilt silver triptych, composed of a central panel and two lateral wings, in a cedar-wood structure.

The central panel is divided into two levels: the upper one presents an architectonic structure and in the lower one there’s the representation of the Birth of the Child Jesus.

On the wings of this triptych, four episodes related to the Birth of the Child Jesus are represented: the Annunciation to the Virgin, the Annunciation to the Shepherds, the Adoration of the Magi and the Presentation in the Temple of the Child Jesus.

It was offered by King Dom João I to Saint Mary of the Olive Tree, in sign of gratitude for the victory attained at the Battle of Aljubarrota. We’re, thus, before a splendorous and historic votive offering.

Though two angels hold the coat of arms of Dom João I, there are two versions related to the origin of this piece: one has it that King Dom João I weighed himself and offered his weight in silver thus commissioning this triptych and other pieces; the other holds that the triptych belonged to the King Dom Juan I of Castile and that it was taken as booty from the Battle of Aljubarrota.

Very highly prized by the canons, this triptych was displayed on the altar during the celebration of Christmas and was present outside the church, in the commemorative ceremonies of 14 August 1385. In the 15th century, it was withdrawn by the chapter of the Colegiada de Nossa Senhora da Oliveira, to avoid it being taken and melted down by Afonso V.

This piece of silverware is classified as a national treasure.