Venetian, 1477/1478 - 1510
The Adoration of the Shepherds, 1505/1510
oil on panel
overall: 90.8 x 110.5 cm (35 3/4 x 43 1/2 in.)
Samuel H. Kress Collection
Object 3 of 7
The Virgin has a calm, quiet beauty, and Joseph's domed head is washed in light, his gray hair picked out with delicate highlights. Barely visible behind them, the ox and ass stand in a dark cave, as humble men gaze down on the infant. The Adoration of the Shepherds was a common theme for public altars, but Giorgione has transformed it—making it more intimate and emotionally resonant.
Landscape became Giorgione's overriding concern as a painter and a primary means of creating mood. X-ray examination of this panel has revealed extensive changes to the sides and background that opened up the space and drew attention into the distance. (Giorgione was unusual in his time for not making preparatory drawings, often working out designs directly on the panel or canvas.) Compare The Holy Family, painted earlier, where the landscape is contained within a window. In The Adoration, by contrast, setting and figures are integrated and suffused with a poetic ambiance that unifies the entire composition. Landscape—and light—shape our experience, emphasizing the painting's meditative, rather than narrative, dimension. Some elements of the picture may have been suggested by poems that celebrated the beauties of nature and rustic life: distant shepherds; the light at the horizon, glowing a soft yellow; a tiny fire sparking under an archway; and clear water flowing in a glassy stream.
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