Jacob van Utrecht's biography straddles three different arenas of the Northern Renaissance. Born in Utrecht in the Northern Netherlands, he signed 'Jacobus Traiectensis', emphasising his origin in the city called Traiectum in Latin; trained in Antwerp in the Southern Netherlands, he absorbed the influence of Joos van Cleve and the Masters of 1518 and of Frankfurt; and from 1519 until at least 1530 he was the major artist in Lübeck in Germany, one of the most prosperous and important ports of the age, founding city of the Hanseatic League - a trading federation which had stretched from London to Novgorod in Russia.
Jacob must have had his initial artistic training in Utrecht, and was in Antwerp by 1506, when he was made a master of the Guild of Saint Luke; amongst his pupils were Jasper de Vos (recorded in 1511) and Heynken Francx (1512). His earliest known work, painted in Antwerp in 1513, is a many-figured triptych of the Descent from the Cross (Berlin, Gemäldegalerie; see R. Grosshans and J. Müller-Hauck, Bilder im Blickpunkt. Jacob van Utrecht: Der Altar von 1513, Berlin-Dahlem, 1982). Curiously, during his time in Antwerp Jacob painted in a distinctive style for which there are no close parallels amongst contemporary or earlier Antwerp artists, and it is only later, in certain works of the Lübeck period, that the influence of the aforementioned Antwerp masters becomes apparent. Before arriving in Lübeck, Jacob was active in another Hanseatic city, Cologne, where he painted two altarpiece wings for the abbey of Gross-Saint Martin (Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz-Museum; and Berchtesgarden, Schlossmuseum), which quote passages of works by Jan van Eyck. In Lübeck Jakob initially resided with the patrician Bruskow family, and was a member of the merchant society the Leonhard Brotherhood, which would seem to imply that he may also have been active as a picture dealer. As the most significant artist based in Lübeck, he painted a number of portraits of wealthy merchants and patricians, and received commissions for religious works such as his Virgin and Child with Donors of 1520, still in Lübeck today (Saint Annen-Museum), and the present work, dated to circa 1525. Even in his later paintings, Jacob continued to make reference to his native Utrecht, placing the stately Gothic spired cathedral of that city in the background of his subject pictures.
Long considered to have been by The Pseudo Bles, the name given to a group of stylistically similar paintings from the Antwerp Mannerist School, this Nativity was identified by Dr. Didier Martens in 2012 as a work by Jacob van Utrecht. Dr. Martens compares the present picture with the artist's treatment of the same subject of circa 1515, now in the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Schloss Berchtesgaden, Munich (private communication with the owner, April 2012). Whilst the central group of angels can be compared with the Munich composition, the classicist ornamentation of the loggia-like setting, inspired by fifteenth-century Italian civic architecture, corresponds closely to that in the central panel of a triptych depicting The Annunciation, sold in these rooms, 5 July 2011, lot 5, for £769,250.