A two way painting
The Numbering at Bethlehem was painted in 1566 by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1525/29-1569), a Protestant painter from the Netherlands.
The painting is inspired by the Gospel of Luke (2.1-5). The first numbering ordered by Caesar Augustus compelled everyone to register in his hometown. Joseph and Mary went to the village of Bethlehem in Judea. It was during this stay that Jesus was born.
A little history
The Italian Renaissance represented sacred figures in central position, in a flattering light.
Bruegel shows the Holy Family in a realistic universe. He transposes them to Flanders, in the 16th century, during the cold winter of 1566.
Mary and Joseph are hidden in the crowd of ordinary people who come to pay tax to King Philip II of Spain. This remote and unpopular king overloaded the Netherlands with taxes to finance a war against France. He also practiced a cruel religious persecution against Protestants.
This painting contains a riddle. We see a man guiding a donkey on which a young pregnant woman is sitting. But nobody knows that this young woman is the mother of Christ.
People with modest appearance can play a very decisive role for humanity.