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For Christmas this year we’ve chosen the nativity scene painted by Correggio around 1529. A group of angels overhead has been been cut from this cropped version of the painting. (They are badly composed and unnecessary; we don’t miss them.) It’s sometimes called Adoration of the Shepherds, because those are shepherds on the left. Almost hidden in the right background is the figure of Joseph — a person often relegated to the margin in paintings of this family. At the time it was painted, the work was valued primarily for what it portrayed and somewhat less for its technique. Nowadays, the work is probably admired more for its structure and craft than for the event it captures. The scene is realistic, no one has a halo and the shepherds are real people. Furthermore, Mary’s face expresses her love for her child, not religious worship as in so many painting which nowadays strike us artificially pious. Everyone in this otherwise completely realistic and earthly scene is illuminated by the almost blinding radiance emanating from the child; indeed, the woman on the left holds up her hand as if to shield her eyes. Correggio’s painting makes visual the words that infant will later use to describe himself — “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” Correggio’s work reminds us that in this season of darkness and we need all the light we can get, no matter if it’s 1529 or 2012.