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Night-time scenes allow artists to show off their mastery of light effects. Some early Nativity scenes are set at night, with the glow of light emanating from Christ. Other New Testament events, such as the Annunciation to the Shepherds and the arrest of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, are also often shown taking place at night.

Seventeenth-century Northern European landscape artists, with their devotion to realism, first mastered moonlit scenes. This tradition continued into the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries with artist such as Claude-Joseph Vernet and Joseph Wright of Derby, and later Sebastian and Henry Pether. The romantic appeal of moonlight and starlight perhaps reached a height with Vincent van Gogh, whose powerful night-time works doubtless reflected his inner turmoil.