RICCI, Sebastiano
(b. 1659, Belluno, d. 1734, Venezia)

The Adoration of the Magi

1726-30
Oil on canvas, 330,2 x 289,6 cm
Royal Collection, Windsor

The artist's bold and colourful treatment of the theme (Saint Matthew 2:9-11) is a link in Venetian painting between Paolo Veronese and Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. The composition is derived in its essentials from the altarpiece painted by Veronese in 1573 for the church of San Silvestro, Venice (now in the National Gallery, London) and anticipates the altarpiece painted by Tiepolo in 1753 for the monastery of Schwarzach in Franconia (now in the Alte Pinakothek, Munich). All three works are large, but the composition by Tiepolo differs from the others, which are almost square in format, by being compressed into a vertical.

The Adoration of the Magi was acquired by George III in 1762 from Consul Joseph Smith and formed part of a series of seven pictures of New Testament subjects. The related paintings are Christ and the Woman who Believed, Christ and the Woman of Samaria, The Magdalen anointing Christ's Feet (all still in the Royal Collection), The Pool of Bethesda and The Woman taken in Adultery (Ministry of Works, presently at Osterley House) and The Sermon on the Mount, which is lost. All these paintings, with the exception of the present work, illustrate scenes from Christ's ministry.

The origin of the commission for this series of paintings is unknown. The size of the undertaking (the dimensions in each case are extremely large and there are fundamental changes in format) has caused the series to be associated with an unrecorded commission for the Royal House of Savoy in Turin, for whom Ricci worked during the 1720s.

The painting demonstrates Sebastiano Ricc's role in the evolution of Rococo art in Venice, which reached its climax in the work of Tiepolo. The setting of The Adoration of the Magi is dramatic, the brushwork full of verve and panache and the colours bright. Several changes in the composition can be seen with the naked eye, especially in the centre. The artist travelled extensively in Italy and also worked in England from 1711/12 to 1716, returning home via France. He formed a partnership with his nephew, Marco (1676-1730), who, according to Gherardi, painted the architectural background to The Adoration of the Magi and the related pictures.