This panel was once thought to have been painted by Sebastiano Mainardi, Domenico Ghirlandaio's brother-in-law. Mainardi is known to have worked for Ghirlandaio and paintings by the two artists have been confused before, a confusion that sheds light upon the workings of a Renaissance artist's workshop. Several versions of the same composition exist and it is likely that apprentices in Ghirlandaio's workshop made copies based upon his original design, copies to which the master himself may have put the finishing touches. The overall quality of the painting here, however, with its delicate brushwork and rich, fresh colours, suggests that we are looking at the work of Domenico's own hand.
The artist has included within the canvas several non-simultaneous events, suggesting in a single image all the important elements of the Nativity story.
In the spring of 1487, Ghirlandaio's workshop admitted the 12 year old Michelangelo Buonarrotti as an apprentice. The document, stating the terms under which Michelangelo was employed in the bottega, still survives. It explains that:
"...the said Michelangelo must stay for the stipulated time with the above named, to learn and practise the art of painting, and that he should obey their orders, and that the same Domenico and Davide should pay him in those three years 24 florins of full weight."
In later life Michelangelo would play down the influence of Domenico on his work, but it is to his first teacher's eternal credit that the 'divine' painter of the frescoes of the Sistine Chapel ceiling first learnt the technique in the Ghirlandaio workshop.