(b. ca. 1515, Bassano, d. 1592, Bassano)

Adoration of the Kings

Oil on canvas, 183 x 235 cm
National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh

From about the 1530s many Venetian pictures became much larger than the earlier works painted for some private space in the owner's home, probably because they were destined for the grander surroundings of reception rooms. This tendency is well illustrated by Jacopo Bassano's The Adoration of the Kings. Although he is one of the greatest representatives of the Venetian pictorial tradition, Bassano lived and worked not in Venice itself, but in the modest market town of Bassano on the Venetian mainland from which he derived his name.

The painting presents a magnificent pageant as the three kings present to the newborn Child their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. The painter's skill in portraying animals, unsurpassed among his contemporaries, is evident in the beautifully observed details of the ox and the ass, on the far left, and the dogs. But these, and the general bustle of the scene, are subjected to the formal order created by the semi-circular sweep of the composition, and by the decoratively repeating patches of intense colour; Bassano does not let his interest in animals and in slices of everyday life - such as the chatting boys and kneeling manservant - detract from the religious significance of the subject. The picturesque ruins on the left, for example, are certainly intended to be symbolic of the decay of pagan antiquity with the coming of Christ.

The central figure in the painting, the king in the striped doublet may be identified as a portrait of the painting's patron, Jacopo Gisi. The two page-boys behind him may also be portraits of his sons.