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How Renaissance masters captured the Adoration of the Magi


Sandro Botticelli | Public Domain

V. M. Traverso - published on 12/20/19

From Leonardo to Botticelli, the arrival of the three Kings has been a staple subject of Renaissance masters.

Think of Christmas paintings, and images of the Christ child surrounded by an ox and a donkey probably come to mind. But many Renaissance artists have focused on the figures of the three magi, the three Kings that according to the Gospel of Matthew honored Jesus’ birth with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Indeed, it is because of this biblical tale that 2,000 years later we celebrate Christmas by exchanging gifts with our loved ones. The “Three Kings” or the “three wise men” have been a staple of European art since medieval times. But it was during the Renaissance that the theme of the “Adoration of the Magi” really became a classic trope of visual arts. From Botticelli to Leonardo, in the 15th and 16th centuries, many great Renaissance artists were commissioned to create paintings of the arrival of the three Kings. Here are four of the most famous works on this theme by Renaissance masters.

1. Adoration of the Magi, Gentile da Fabriano, 1423

Described as “the culminating work of International Gothic painting,” this golden panel was commissioned by Florentine arts patron Palla Strozzi when Gentile da Fabriano arrived in Florence in 1420. The artist thus featured both his commissioner, Palla, depicted with a red hat, and his commissioner’s father, Onofrio, depicted as falcon trainer, as characters. The panel represents three different moments in the arrival of the magi, from their entrance into Bethlehem to their meeting the Virgin Mary. Gold is the dominant tone of the picture, adding to the overall feeling of opulence imparted by the rich brocades and precious textiles.

Public Domain

The Adoration of the Magi, Gentile da Fabriano

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