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

Adoration of the Magi

Distemper on canvas, 55 x 71 cm
J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Between 1490 and 1506, the year he died, Mantegna painted several devotional paintings in which the main figures are represented as reliefs standing out against a mostly dark background. Inspired by reliefs on classical tombs, these figures are shown partially hidden behind stone balustrades or a frame.

The subject of Adoration of the Magi was one of the most popular in all fifteenth-century art, especially for the opportunities it presented for the display of rich costumes and accessories, and of numerous subordinate figures with horses and other animals in an extensive landscape. Mantegna, however, restricts his composition to just six figures - with the three magi on the right converging on the three members of the Holy Family on the left - which he shows in half-length, and hence, too, in powerfully expressive close-up. Four decades earlier, when still working as a young man in Padua, Mantegna had introduced this type of half-length devotional narrative into Italian painting with his Presentation in the Temple.

It was suggested that this painting was executed for Isabella d'Este, the consort of Marquis Francesco Gonzaga.