ZURBARÁN, Francisco de
(b. 1598, Fuente de Cantos, d. 1664, Madrid)

Adoration of the Magi

Oil on canvas, 264 x 176 cm
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Grenoble

In 1638 Zurbarán received order from the Carthusians of Jerez which consisted principally of two parts: five large and two small canvases for the monumental altarpiece of the church, and eight portraits of distinguished members of the order, accompanied by two images of angels with censers, which were installed in a narrow passageway leading to a small room behind the altar where the host was kept. Four of the major altarpiece paintings depict the Infancy of Christ, and for sheer magnificence of colour and spectacle, they are unsurpassed in the artist's work. One of these paintings is the Adoration of the Magi.

This painting is a version of the composition employed by Velázquez. Zurbarán takes this scheme as his point of departure and enriches it by substituting rich colourful costumes for the plain serges worn by the magi of Velázquez, although fundamentally the paintings are similar in their use of large figures, the suppression of illusionistic space, and the air of high solemnity.