Whilst often known by sight, many novices to the world of art may not know it by its name alone. In this painting, Caravaggio has made a very spiritual and famous legend appear like a much more human and realistic affair.
Historically, The Adoration of the Shepherds is based around several shepherds arriving not in time for the birth of Jesus Christ, but shortly after.
In the scene, Jesus, Joseph and Mary can be seen laying on the floor of the famously stark and barren stable; a very humble setting for one of the most famous figures of all time.
The legendary donkey and ox are both present in the background, giving weight to the circumstances of this historically unproven, but no less revered event. The shepherds themselves appear equally humble, devoid of the typical opulence one often associates with this story, and wait to be introduced by Joseph himself.
Perhaps of most importance overall is the fact that Caravaggio has, it has been claimed, deliberately left out many of the spiritual elements of the birth of Christ.
This is a simple pauper mother giving birth to her child; the witnesses do not sit in stark admiration, but instead appear to appreciate the significance nonetheless.
There is no almighty beam of light coming into the stable, despite there definitely being room for it in the top left of the image. Jesus himself is not surrounded by any spiritual or non-earthly aura; he is a simple, believable newborn.
What is also notable by its deliberate inclusion is the overwhelming theme of love. Mary's undying motherly love for her new arrival can clearly be seen and empathised with; her eyes shut slightly, signifying the tremendous event she has gone through that has left her tired, but full of joy and love for her newborn son, despite the less than perfect circumstances behind the baby's location of arrival, which can account for the somewhat sombre feel that also surrounds the painting.
The Adoration of the Shepherds is characteristic, not only of the baroque work of the period, but also of Caravaggio's trademark work around biblical stories. His other work contains similar human rather than spiritual elements, making the stories from the Bible believable and relatable.
Other associated works with a similar feel include the Martyrdom of Saint Ursula, the Martydom of Saint Matthew and the Calling of Saint Matthew. All works are noteworthy thanks to their similar use of sombre, humble tones.