Epiphany is a Greek term meaning 'manifestation' and the crib presented here tells of the moment in which three rich and important 'Magi' or kings arrive to see and pay honour to the child of whose coming the prophets had foretold.
However, God also shows himself to the 'simple and pure in heart'. We see the sheep appearing from behinds the folds of the cloaks following the singing shepherds, who are constantly alert and ready to tend and feed their flocks.
The poses turn to the classic iconographic ceremony, with Joseph standing, the Virgin Mary kneeling and praying, the donkey and the oxen poking their noses into the whole proceedings, whilst the bystanders encircling the scene appear to move and slowly approach the centre with a unanimous and contained joy.
The draped garments are light and sinuous and seem to be just resting on the bodies of the figurines; there is gentleness in their expressive faces and a delicate dignity in their gestures outlining the movements just described. The oil colours are diaphanous and discreet, with their ever-lightening hues and they show the brilliance of the shades of colour where the fold is deepest without ever covering or detracting from the delicate texture of the maple wood veneer. The ‘Magi’ are wrapped in Oriental style clothes and their precious decorations are in keeping with tradition. The 'ducal crown' of Balthazar appears to be a homage to the effigy of a Venetian Doge with all the pomp and splendour of the past: it is from here that we have the name, 'Venetian crib', in the visible allusion to links that this ancient trading city has always had with the Near and Middle East.
The oak version is not painted, therefore the contrast between light and dark is only due to the opaque reflections of the wood. The life and naturalness of each individual figurine is portrayed, their identities then evident in the small details of the faces and positions.
At the centre of the composition is the Virgin with Child, seated in an unusual and modern position on a square block whilst gently holding her son. Watching her is Joseph, holding up a lantern to draw attention to the place where the miracle has taken place.