Stanley Spencer, (English painter, 1891-1959) The Nativity 1912
Much of Stanley Spencer's work depicts Biblical scenes happening not in the Holy Land but in the small Thames-side village, where he was born & spent most of his life. He referred to Cookham as "a village in Heaven." He presents the literature of the Bible as incidents of Cookham village life. He uses images of his neighbors as stand-ins for their Gospel counterparts, lending Christian teachings an eerie immediacy. Spencer's The Nativity won first prize in the Slade Summer Composition Competition of 1912.
Spencer later explained the composition of this painting: The couple occupy the centre of the picture, Joseph who is to the extreme right doing something to the chestnut tree and Mary who stands by the manager; they appear in their relationship with the elements generally, so that Mary to the couple in contact with one another seems like some preonderating element of life, just another big fact of nature such as a tree or a waterfall or a field or a river. Joseph is only related to Mary in this picture by some sacramental ordinance... This relationship has always interested me and in those early works I contemplated a lot of those unbearable relationships between men and women. (Tate Gallery Archive, 733.2.85)