Great Britain's break with Catholicism smashed its nativity scene moment

By Jonathon Jones
The Adoration of the Shepherds, circa 1640, by Guido Reni. Photograph: Alamy
British artists have painted the bleak midwinter often enough, but they have not created any great images of the nativity (or even an annunciation worth its salt). There may seem an obvious explanation. In the early 16th century, Henry VIII decided to break with the Roman church. While Catholicism values art as a way to convert and inspire the flock, the Protestant ideas that took hold in Britain rejected religious images as “idolatrous”. At just the time when Italy was making the nativity one of art’s greatest themes, British Protestants in the 16th and 17th centuries were smashing stained glass windows and vandalising religious statues. [link]

The Adoration of the Kings, 1564, by Pieter Brueghel the Elder. Photograph: Alamy