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About three dozen people gather in a grassy field to either side of a crumbling structure to kneel and pray before a woman and baby in the center of this horizontal painting. The woman, Mary, and baby, Jesus, have smooth, pale skin while the others have light or tanned skin. The structure has sand-colored stone pillars, a wooden triangular, pitched roof, and a straw floor. Mary, who has an elongated torso, sits facing us with her knees apart. She wears an azure-blue robe over a rose-pink dress. A shell-pink veil covers her head and body. Jesus sits on her left knee, his pudgy body angled to our left. He is nude except for a transparent cloth wrapped over one shoulder and the opposite hip. Mary’s left hand braces his torso. On Mary’s right, our left, Joseph, an older man, stands facing us. He clasps his hands at his chest and leans on a long stick. He has wrinkled skin, long, gray curly hair, and a full beard. Both Mary and Joseph tilt their heads to their right, our left, as they look down at Jesus. Joseph wears a golden yellow robe over a blue tunic. Joseph, Mary, and Jesus have faint gold halos. Behind them, a brown cow and gray donkey rest on the straw. People closest to Mary and Jesus kneel and bow their heads while the people to the left and right sides mostly stand. Three men kneeling closest to Mary and Jesus offer gifts, including a bronze vessel and a gold jar. One man has long dark brown hair and a beard, and wears a gold crown. Another man is bald with long gray hair and beard, while the third is cleanshaven with shoulder-length brown hair. These men wear robes in powder blue, carnation pink, or celery green with delicate silver and gold embelishments. Others in the crowd range in age from young and cleanshaven to older and bearded. They wear robes and tunics in shades of raspberry pink, butterscotch yellow, lapis blue, plum purple, or forest green. Several horses, their coats white or cinnamon brown, stand among the crowd, a few with riders. To our right, one horse rears its head and two others stand facing each other. Beyond the crowd, grassy green meadows and hills dotted with trees lead back to the horizon. A pale blue sky fills the top third of the composition.

Sandro Botticelli, The Adoration of the Magi, c. 1478/1482, tempera and oil on poplar panel, Andrew W. Mellon Collection, 1937.1.22

The Christmas Story in Art

The Christmas Story

  • Wednesday, December 14, 2022
  • 1:00 p.m. – 2:30 p.m.
  • West Building Lecture Hall
  • In-person
  • Registration Required

Registration is required.

Presented by David Gariff, senior lecturer

Enjoy an illustrated Christmas holiday lecture exploring the episodes surrounding the birth of Christ as depicted through masterworks from the National Gallery’s permanent collection.

Related excerpts from the King James Version of the Bible as well as investigations of iconography, technique, and historical context enrich the experience. Paintings by Duccio, Fra Angelico, Botticelli, Giorgione, and Gerard David are among the featured works. 

Explore Selected Works