This scene shows Mary kneeling in adoration before a newly-born Christ who is laid on her cloak. Five angels sing welcoming his birth – two of them play lutes. Beside them a donkey appears to bray, while an Ox peers down solemnly at Christ.
Two shepherds are present (their faces have lost detail, possibly through over-zealous cleaning by previous owners). One of the shepherds points heavenwards, clutching his staff like a sceptre. Joseph is shown in deep contemplation, with his leg crossed over his knee.
Each person, angel and animal shows a different attitude of reverence towards the infant Christ. Even the magpie, well-known in Piero’s native Tuscany for its constant chatter, seems changed and looks to be struck silent.
Piero has added other touches from his native region – Bethlehem itself has a distinctly Tuscan feel. The flat land on top of the hill where they stand evokes Tuscany, as does the winding valley to the left. Meanwhile the skyline on the right, dominated by the basilica, could almost be the outskirts of Piero’s home town Borgo Sansepolcro. More at The National Gallery.