(b. 1445, Firenze, d. 1510, Firenze)

Adoration of the Magi

Tempera on panel, diameter 131,5 cm
National Gallery, London

The Adoration of the Magi demonstrates Botticelli's continued progression in his handling of this subject. The main event is no longer located to one side, as was the case in the earlier painting, but has been moved into the centre of the picture. In portraying such a detailed wealth of variation, Botticelli was following Leon Battista Alberti, the artist and scholar, who had recommended in his treatise on painting that a picture be so executed as to embrace the greatest possible diversity, for the edification of the observer. Botticelli thus not only painted his figures clothed in highly imaginative robes such as present a wealth of variation, but also captured them in the most varied of postures, gestures and facial expressions. The relationship between the various figures here, and between these figures and the action that is taking place, also appears tighter than in the earlier Adoration, nevertheless, they still do not yet constitute a dramatic unity.

There is such a wealth of figures in this composition that the overall effect can seem quite confusing, but in the centre is the child sitting on Mary's lap. The scene is a ruined, pseudoclassical temple building. It was considered to be the symbol of the destruction of the heathen world by Christ's arrival, for according to mediaeval legend an ancient temple of peace collapsed in Rome when Christ was born.

Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 8 minutes):
Ottorino Respighi: Trittico Botticelliano - L'adorazione dei Magi