GHIRLANDAIO, Domenico
(b. 1449, Firenze, d. 1494, Firenze)

Adoration of the Magi

1487
Tempera on wood, diameter: 171 cm
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

In 1487, Ghirlandaio painted another Adoration of the Magi, a large circular painting for the Tornabuoni family. The date is confirmed by Roman numerals: MCCCCLXXXVII.

Such tondos were particularly popular as decorative items in private rooms, and their circular form required a particularly skillful composition. In the centre the childlike Mary is enthroned with her child. In the background, behind the ruined arcades of a classical building, is a simple hut that provides the ox and ass with a stable and the holy family with shelter. The kings' large retinues are lined up right to the ruin, and only behind the Madonna is there a circle of empty space. In other words the composition is influenced by the form of the panel.

On the left is a lovely group of four soldiers with helmets and lances, looking in various directions. The soldiers have four horses that are also looking in different directions. Their pendant on the right, further back, is a group of four other soldiers in magnificent contemporary armor. The horses in front of the ruin are also very successful, and in them Ghirlandaio showed that he was also capable of depicting animals with strong foreshortening and from various angles. The contrast between the magnificent gray stallion and the darker gray ass is surely intentional. Above these animals the observer's gaze wanders through the open arched architecture of the classical ruin out into the far distance. There, painted in an atmospheric paleness, is a city surrounded by water and reminiscent of Venice.

The composition of this Adoration contains allusions to the unique panel created in 1481 by Leonardo da Vinci, now in the Galleria degli Uffizi. Though Leonardo never completed this work, it had an enormous influence on the artists of his age. Ghirlandaio adopted the pyramidal composition of the main figures, with Mary at the top. The circular empty space behind Mary in the tondo might also have been inspired by Leonardo's picture.

A replica of this tondo, in smaller dimensions and entirely the work of Domenico's shop, is to be found in the Galleria Palatina at Palazzo Pitti in Florence.