The painting on which the 1966 and 1967
traditional Christmas stamps were based is one of several variations of the same composition completed by Hans Memling and his workshop. One version, in the Uffizi gallery in Florence, Italy, shows Mary wearing a mantle, her head tilting in the opposite direction. The garments and the arch, with garlands hanging from it, are more elaborate in the Uffizi version. In the National Gallery’s painting, there are different sculptural figures atop the columns, representing Isaiah and King David (Hand 1986).
On the stamp, the baby Jesus appears somewhat awkward, extending his arm towards the border of the picture. When looking at the full painting, however, it is clear he is reaching for an apple, offered by an angel as a “token of his role as the new Adam.” (Wolff 1986). Also, other elements, particularly of the 1966 stamp, are not clear without referencing the original painting. There is an object protruding into the stamp image from the bottom left corner: a look at Memling’s painting reveals this is the handle of the musical instrument, a viol, carried by the angel. The passage to the upper left of the stamp image is also vague, but in the larger painting it is clearly a landscape. One obscurity in the 1966 stamp was made clearer in the 1967 version: the two objects protruding at the lower right of the image are part of the seat upon which Mary rests.