Henry Ossawa Tanner’s View of the Nativity

OK –  One more post to get the Christmas art binge out of my system – then I’ll get back to wherever else my mood takes me.

Henry O Tanner SelfieEverybody has heard of Rembrandt, but how many of you have heard of Henry Ossawa Tanner? No? He’s not a “Dutch Master,” or a “Renaissance Dude.” He is actually an American artist, born in Pittsburgh, PA in 1859. He was also the very first internationally-acclaimed African-American artist. His mom was a Civil War era slave and escaped to the North through the Underground Railroad, and his dad was a minister and political activist.

When he was a young man, we attended an art academy in Philadelphia, and was the only black student enrolled. He battled racism, travelled the world, and painted – spending most of his adult years in Paris. That’s enough bio for my purposes.


A few years ago, I happened upon one of his paintings tucked away in a museum stairwell, and was awestruck. Since then I have become a huge fan. Some of you might be familiar with his work, but I’ll bet a lot of you have never heard of him before.

And so, I introduce you to a selection of his paintings that deal with the birth and early life of the Savior.  Oh, and Merry Christmas to my friend Velva.

First, “The Annunciation.” Gabriel’s visit to the Virgin Mary.

The Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner 1896

Next, “La Sainte-Marie.” (Saint Mary.)

Mary 2

Another simply titled, “Mary.” (Notice how his wildly his style varies.)


“Angels Appearing to the Shepherds.”

Angels appearing to shelpherds


The next few represent events after the Savior’s birth:

“The Three Wise Men.”

The Three Wise Men


“Flight Into Egypt.”

Flight into egpyt 1

This next one is another “Flight Into Egypt.”  THIS ONE IS MY FAVORITE. I love this painting – it is the first one of Tanner’s that I mentioned earlier. I have a print of it that I hang on the wall at Christmastime, even though it isn’t literally a Christmas event.

I included a link so you can look at a super-sized version, if you want.  Here.

Flight into Egypt 1923


A painting that many of you will adore: “Christ and His Mother Studying the Scriptures.”  Have you seen anything like this?

Mary and Jesus


And finally, “The Good Shepherd.”

The Good ShepherdThere you go. Hope you enjoyed it, and Merry Christmas!

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  1. That was Awesome! I was particularly touched by Mary teaching Jesus about the scriptures. The lighting, the time of day, the fact the scriptures were rolled up; I’d never considered these things visually. Again, thank you MMM!
    Merry Christmas, Sir.

  2. I have not heard of him before- or seen his work. He is amazing! Thank you.
    *side-note- Mary is depicted mostly in blue,however there is no ancient word for blue. Scholars are debating right now if they actually didn’t have blue, or if they did and they called it green. I love stuff like that.

  3. Beautiful. Hadn’t heard of him before. “Mary” is absolutely stunning, and I’m ordering a print of “Christ and His Mother Studying the Scriptures.” I love gospel themed art that shows mother’s and sons (I have 4). I especially love anything I can keep up year round. You’ve made a Tanner fan out of me.

  4. Awesome artwork – looking at it brings the spirit. Thanks for sharing. I had never heard of this artist.

  5. Thank you, again and again. This made another spiritual morning for me. I love all of these, but you are right, “Christ and his Mother Studying the Scriptures” brought tears to my eyes. I am grateful to learn about an artist I had not known. This is a most lovely Christmas present! I am blessed.

  6. Thank you so much for sharing! I have never seen or heard of this artist before! What a treat!

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