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Cradles like this were usually found in nunneries. At Christmas time, the sisters would rock the cradle as if there was a real baby in it.

There really was a baby Jesus in this cradle, under the richly embroidered blanket – but made of silver. It has disappeared. In the Christmas season, extra decorations were added to the cradle, and it stood in the choir of a convent chapel (or sometimes in a beguinage church). The sisters would take turns pulling a string, causing the cradle to rock and two little silver bells at the bottom to ring.



In the late Middle Ages, when this cradle was made, it was considered very important to be able to enter into religious events in your imagination. In the birth of Jesus, for example. Singing songs and rocking the cradle made the story almost tangible, like acting in a play.



Few cradles like this have been preserved. This gilded example is also one of the loveliest. The sidewalls are painted with two relevant scenes: the angel Gabriel foretelling the birth of Jesus to Mary (the Annunciation), and the pregnant Mary visiting her unexpectedly pregnant older cousin Elizabeth (the Visitation). The two figurines at the top are Mary and her mother, St Anne.



  • Christmas Cradle, 2nd half of 15th century
  • Oak, gilded, height: 39.7 cm, width: 31.6 cm, depth: 19.7 cm