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

Adoration of the Magi

Tempera on panel, 70 x 103 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington

Botticelli probably executed this painting while still in Rome. An intimation that the picture was perhaps done during Botticelli's stay in Rome can be seen in the groom in the background on the right who is attempting to bring his horse under control; Botticelli probably adapted this motif from the classical sculptures of the Dioscuri, the horse-tamers, in Rome.

In contrast to Botticelli's earlier versions of the Adoration, the Virgin and the Christ Child now form the painting's main focal point, uncontested by any of the figures accompanying them. As in the Adoration done for Guasparre del Lama, those present here are arrayed around the Virgin in a semicircle; in this picture, however, Botticelli has opened up the semicircle towards the observer, so that the latter's gaze may reach the Virgin unhindered. At the same time, all those involved, their postures and gestures, are directed towards the Mother of God, lending the painting a dramatic unity which the earlier Adorations lacked. The artist's recording of the figures' various reactions demonstrates once again the importance for Botticelli of Alberti's treatise on painting. The art theoretician recommended for the edification of the observer not only the greatest variation in the possible palette of emotions but also the depiction of people of differing age, together with alternation in the perspectives offered by the figures, who should be presented from various sides in three-quarter and half profile or from the front. Botticelli's wealth of variation in the fashioning of his figures fulfilled all of these demands, yet without losing the central focus of the picture's content.

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