Adoration of the Shepherds
Andrea Mantegna 1431-1506
Mantegna’s shepherds are a ragged pair. Their trousers have holes in the knees, and they look scrawny and undernourished. There’s nothing conventionally handsome about them. They look as if they have run all the way, desperate to see this child, but now they are there, they don’t know what to do next. They are very ordinary people who find themselves in an extraordinary situation.
Shepherds in first century Judea occupied a lowly position. Living out on the hillsides they weren’t easily able to comply with the ritual requirements of their faith, and they also had a reputation as thieves, since they let their flocks feed on pastures which were owned by others. But they were also significant figures in Jewish history. King David had been a shepherd boy when he was first called to kingship, and the image of God as Good Shepherd was widespread. Israel’s story had begun as the story of nomadic pastoralists, tending their flocks in the land of Canaan to which their ancestor Abraham had been called. Once again it seems that shepherds are to play a key role in the world, as the first to visit the one who will be called the Good Shepherd.
- If you were casting a modern day nativity play, who would you cast as today’s equivalent of these shepherds?
- Look at the picture. What do you think these shepherds are about to say and do?