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Arts of Europe

The MFAH collections of art created on the European continent encompass artistic styles across the time line of history, from the ancient world to the Middle Ages, and the Early Modern era to the 21st century.

Spanish, c. 1618 - 1682
The Nativity
c. 1665–70
Oil on obsidian

15 1/16 x 13 7/16 inches

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

The Rienzi Collection
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Harris Masterson III

Arts of Europe

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, one of the greatest 17th-century Spanish painters, executed The Nativity on obsidian, a lustrous volcanic black glass.

Scholarship suggests that the obsidian was originally created by Aztec craftsman for use as a "smoking mirror," a ceremonial tool for spiritual communication and divination. Murillo used the Pre-Columbian object as a painting surface, cleverly taking advantage of the vertical inclusions in the glass to suggest heavenly rays shining down on the Holy Family.