National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of The Adoration of the Magi Benvenuto di Giovanni (painter)
Sienese, 1436 - before 1517
The Adoration of the Magi, c. 1470/1475
tempera on panel
overall: 182 x 137 cm (71 5/8 x 53 15/16 in.) framed: 207.7 x 150.5 x 11.4 cm (81 3/4 x 59 1/4 x 4 1/2 in.)
Andrew W. Mellon Collection
1937.1.10
On View
From the Tour: Siena in the 1400s
Object 4 of 7

Many Italian cities celebrated the feast of Epiphany with elaborate pageants that reenacted the procession of the Three Magi. This panel, a maze of pattern and rich decoration, captures the splendor of these spectacles. Costly brocades and furs adorn the three kings. A page on the right wears a peacock-feather cap; even his horse has an elaborately coiffed mane. Crowns and sword hilts are raised in plaster relief and gilded. The figures crowd the front of the picture plane, but we are separated from the holy figures rather than drawn into their world. The central placement of the Virgin—rather than the Magi—reflects her importance in Siena.

The harsh colors and brittle hardness convey a sensation of an airless, crystalline world. The ground is strewn with smooth, vividly colored stones; probably these jewel-toned beads are borrowed from manuscript illuminations. Benvenuto punctuated his scene with fantasy—look, for example, at the soldier's armor in the scene of Christ carrying the cross. Also typical is his inclusion of such everyday details as the young boys who have climbed a tree for a better view.

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