This intriguing and hitherto unrecorded picture is a larger and upright version of a canvas of the same subject in the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin (fig. 1). The latter, known from the name of a former owner as the Mary Nativity, differs principally in its size (59 x 67 cm), its format, which is horizontal, and in the fact that it bears a signature and date: 'Lenain. f 1644'. While Thuillier and Laclotte in their 1979 Paris exhibition considered the Dublin picture to be a 'copie d'une très belle composition perdue' (Les frères Le Nain, Grand Palais, 1978-9, p. 118, under no. 9), Rosenberg, acknowledging the worn and 'brutally restored' state of conservation, proposed it as an autograph work by Mathieu Le Nain, further noting that parts of the picture, such as the kneeling shepherd and Saint Joseph were of too high quality to be made by a copyist (Tout l'oeuvre peint des Le Nain, Paris, 1993, p. 90, no. 68). For him, a certain elegance, the delicacy of colouring--in particular the slate grey palette--combined with a sense of tender and refined poetry, are all hallmarks of the work of Mathieu Le Nain, and he points to obvious stylistic comparisons between the Dublin picture and the Supper at Emmaus in the Louvre and the London National Gallery Adoration of the Shepherds (both of which he gives to Mathieu Le Nain).
Apparently in significantly better condition than the Dublin canvas, the present work seems not to be far in quality from the Dublin picture, despite the fact that, unlike that picture, it bears no signature. While discussion of attributions of paintings given to Louis, Antoine and Mathieu Le Nain and their studio continues to cause disagreement among scholars, infra-red and X-ray images of this work are 'consistent with the Le Nains' known method of working' (report prepared by Dr. Jilleen Nadolny, Art Access and Research (UK) Ltd.), and if the Dublin picture is by Mathieu, as Rosenberg proposes, an attribution to Mathieu should also be considered for this canvas.