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

Adoration of the Magi

c. 1475
Tempera on panel, 111 x 134 cm
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

Somewhere around 1475, Botticelli painted the famous Adoration of the Magi for Guasparre di Zanobi del Lama, a work in which the artist also depicted himself. This painting established Botticelli's fame in Florence, and may rightfully be considered the high point of his early artistic output.

Guasparre del Lama was a parvenu from the humblest background with a dubious past - he had been convicted of the embezzlement of public funds in 1447. He had been working since the 1450s as a broker and money-changer, something which brought him considerable wealth. In order that he might also obtain the high social standing which he lacked, he enrolled in the most prestigious brotherhoods and endowed a chapel in Santa Maria Novella, which he decorated with Botticelli's altar-piece. Del Lama's career did not last long, for he soon slipped back into his dishonest business practices.

Del Lama may be seen among the crowd of people on the right-hand side of the picture, an elderly man with white hair and a light blue robe looking at the observer and pointing in the latter's direction with his right hand. The most famous members of the Medici family are portrayed together with del Lama; controversy rages as to their precise identification, although there is no doubt that the eldest king, kneeling before the Virgin and the Christ Child, is a representation of Cosimo the Elder, founder in the 1430s of what would be dynastic rule by the Medici family over Florence for many years to come. Other members: Cosimo's son Piero, called the Gouty, as the kneeling king with red mantle in the centre, Lorenzo the Magnificent as the young man at his right, in profile, with a black and red mantle.

A comparison of Botticelli's painting with his earlier representations of the Adoration (both in the National Gallery, London)) reveals the extent to which the artist had further developed and compensated for his earlier weaknesses. The ground rises gently, so that the faces of almost everyone present can be seen, as can the great variety of postures and gestures that these figures embody. However, Botticelli has combined those involved in an ever more compelling fashion to create a dramatic unity, one concentrated wholly upon the main event. Furthermore, he has moved the central king slightly away from the main axis, enabling the observer's gaze to fall unimpeded upon the Virgin, who is now no longer in danger of becoming lost in the throng, as was still the case in the London portrayal.

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