Overview

Sandro Botticelli, a Florentine, painted several versions of the theme of the Adoration of the Magi. The Magi, or wise men, were particularly venerated in Florence, as one of the city's leading religious confraternities was dedicated to them. The members of the confraternity took part in pageants organized every five years, when the journey to Bethlehem of the Magi and their retinue, often numbering in the hundreds, was re-enacted through the streets of Florence.

The Washington Adoration was probably painted in Rome, where Pope Sixtus IV had called the artist to fresco the walls of the Sistine Chapel, along with other leading Florentine masters of the day. Botticelli's linear and decorative Adoration is set in the ruin of a classical temple instead of a humble stable. This setting emphasizes the belief that Christianity arose from the ruins of paganism, and suggests a continuity between ancient and Christian philosophy.

Earlier Renaissance paintings of this theme, such as the Gallery's tondo by Fra Angelico and Fra Lippi, emphasize the pomp and pageantry of the scene. As painted by Botticelli in this late version, the religious aspect is stressed. Each figure is an expression of piety, the postures of their hands and bodies revealing devotion, reverence and contemplation on the divine mystery before them.

Inscription

Marks and Labels

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Provenance

Said to have been acquired from a private collection in Rome by the engraver Peralli.[1] Dominique Vivant Denon [1747-1825], Paris;[2] sold 1808 to Czar Alexander I of Russia, [1777-1825], Saint Petersburg; Imperial Hermitage Gallery, Saint Petersburg; purchased January 1931 through (Matthiesen Gallery, Berlin; P. & D. Colnaghi & Co., London and New York; and M. Knoedler & Co., New York and London) by Andrew W. Mellon, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C.;[4] deeded 5 June 1931 to The A.W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust, Pittsburgh;[5] gift 1937 to NGA.

Exhibition History

Bibliography

1909
Wrangell, Baron Nicolas. Les Chefs-d'Oeuvre de la Galérie de Tableaux de l'Hermitage Impérial à St-Pétersbourg. London, 1909: repro. 3.
1935
Tietze, Hans. Meisterwerke europäischer Malerei in Amerika. Vienna, 1935: 54, repro. (English ed., Masterpieces of European Painting in America. New York, 1939: 54, repro.).
1937
Jewell, Edward Alden. "Mellon's Gift." Magazine of Art 30, no. 2 (February 1937): 82.
1941
Preliminary Catalogue of Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1941: 29, no. 22.
1941
"World Masterpieces Lend Supreme Distinction to National Gallery of Art." The Washington Star (16 March 1941): F6.
1942
Book of Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1942: 239, repro. 76.
1944
Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds., Masterpieces of Painting from the National Gallery of Art. New York, 1944: 40, color repro.
1949
Paintings and Sculpture from the Mellon Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1949 (reprinted 1953 and 1958): 24, repro.
1951
Einstein, Lewis. Looking at Italian Pictures in the National Gallery of Art. Washington, 1951: 46-48, repro.
1956
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1956: 18, color repro.
1957
Shapley, Fern Rusk. Comparisons in Art: A Companion to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. London, 1957 (reprinted 1959): pl. 31
1959
Shapley, Fern Rusk. Early Italian Painting in the National Gallery of Art. Washington, D.C., 1959 (Booklet Number Three in Ten Schools of Painting in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.): 30, color repro.
1960
The National Gallery of Art and Its Collections. Foreword by Perry B. Cott and notes by Otto Stelzer. National Gallery of Art, Washington (undated, 1960s): 6, repro.
1963
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. New York, 1963 (reprinted 1964 in French, German, and Spanish): 82, repro.
1965
Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 17
1966
Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds. A Pageant of Painting from the National Gallery of Art. 2 vols. New York, 1966: 1:48, color repro.
1966
Walton, William. "Parnassus on Potomac." Art News 65 (March 1966): 38.
1968
European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1968: 10, repro.
1975
European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 36, repro.
1978
Olson, Roberta J.M. "Botticelli's Horsetamer: A Quotation from Antiquity which Reaffirms a Roman Date for the Washington Adoration." Studies in the History of Art vol. 8 (1978): 6-21, repro.
1979
Shapley, Fern Rusk. Catalogue of the Italian Paintings. 2 vols. Washington, 1979: I:81-83, II:pl. 53, 53.
1979
Watson, Ross. The National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1979: 27, pl. 10.
1984
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 94, no. 55, color repro.
1985
European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 56, repro.
1991
Gingold, Diane J. and Elizabeth A.C. Weil. The Corporate Patron. New York, 1991: 50-51, color repro.
1991
Kopper, Philip. America's National Gallery of Art: A Gift to the Nation. New York, 1991: 90-91, color repro.
1992
National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 22, repro.
1996
Hunter, Sam and Melissa de Medeiros. The Rise of the Art World in America: Knoedler at 150. Exh. cat. M. Knoedler & Company, New York, 1996: 13.
1997
Neverov, Oleg, and Mikhail Piotrovsky. The Hermitage: Essays on the History of the Collection, Saint Petersburg, 1997: 164-165, repro.
2003
Boskovits, Miklós, David Alan Brown, et al. Italian Paintings of the Fifteenth Century. The Systematic Catalogue of the National Gallery of Art. Washington, 2003: 161-166, color repro.
2004
Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 24-25, no. 17, color repro.
2009
Odom, Anne, and Wendy R. Salmond, eds. Treasures into Tractors: The Selling of Russia's Cultural Heritage, 1918-1938. Washington, D.C., 2009:
2011
Fiedler, Susanne, and Torsten Knuth. "Vexierbilder einer Biographie: Dr. Heinz Mansfeld (1899-1959)." Mecklenburgische Jahrbücher 126 (2011):307.
2011
Singer, Nina. " Galerie Matthiesen," in Gute Geschäfte. Kunsthandel in Berlin 1933-1945. Exh. Cat., Aktives Museum, Berlin, 2011: 73-80, repro.

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