(b. 1431, Isola di Carturo, d. 1506, Mantova)

The Adoration of the Magi

Tempera on wood, 76 x 77 cm
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

Mantegna's first important commission from Ludovico Gonzaga was the decoration of the chapel in Castello di San Giorgio, executed in the first half of the 1460s. It is unfortunately impossible to reconstruct the whole of Mantegna's original intentions there with any confidence, although some panels almost certainly traceable to the chapel still survive. They include three paintings in the Uffizi: The Ascension of Christ, The Circumcision and The Adoration of the Magi. Today they are mounted as a triptych in the Uffizi with The Adoration of the Magi in the centre. They were given this format in 1827, but the inconsistencies in both composition and iconography indicate that these are individual works rather than parts of a uniformly planned altarpiece. Nevertheless, they were created for the same chapel.

The three Magi symbolize both the three ages of man and also the three continents known at that time, Asia, Europe, and Africa. The adherents of different cultures among the followers of the kings are depicted realistically - they were familiar because of the activities of cosmopolitan Venice, a major trading centre and slave market.