This plate is one of the last engravings by Goltzius before he abandoned engraving in 1598 in favour of painting, passing on his printmaking activities to his son-in-law, Jacob Matham. This is confirmed by the engraved inscription which indicates that Goltzius was fully responsible for the composition, and that Matham served only as publisher. The reasons for it remaining incomplete are unknown and, given the exceptional beauty of the engraving, something of a mystery. To modern eyes, its incompleteness seems almost intentional, the whiteness of the paper brilliantly heightening the effect of the light of the candle illuminating the exquisitely rendered faces of the huddled worshippers. However, as Peter Parshall points out, Goltzius' habitual commitment to highly refined, virtuoso performance with the burin, and the mannerist inclination to fill the field of any composition, speak against a deliberate decision to leave the plate in an unfinished state ('Unfinished Business: The Problem of Resolution in Printmaking', in: The Unfinished Print, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., 2001, p.17). In addition to this, Goltzius was reputedly very particular about his output, not exposing anything to the public until it was completed to his satisfaction. A likely explanation is that Matham may have released The Adoration of the Shepherds as a posthumous tribute to the virtuosity of his mentor. The plate was later reworked with engraved lines delineating the 'completed' contours of the image, and in the process destroying the singular beauty of the Goltzius' composition. Only the present first state can be attributed exclusively to Goltzius himself.