Domenico Ghirlandaio 1449 – 1494

The Adoration of the Magi (1488)

tempera on panel (285 × 240 cm) — 1488 Museum Ospedale degli Innocenti, Florence

This work is linked to Matthew 2:11

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If we have to believe Ghirlandaio it must have been busy at the holy family's residence the day the three wise men paid them a visit. A large number of people populate this altarpiece.

Kneeling to the left is St John the Baptist, pointing in a manner copied by Leonardo da Vinci in his Baptist. His right arm follows the diagonal that leads to the absolute center of the image, where Mary resides.

The two children in the foreground probably represent the innocent children in the orphanage the painting was made for. They are wounded, so they must be survivors of the Slaughter of the Innocents.

The three Magi are close to Mary. Standing with a goblet in his hand is the youngest of them. The older men are kneeling. The kneeling man to the right must be Joseph, identified by the halo around his head.

On the second row, third from the left, Ghirlandaio himself looks at the spectator.

In the top part angels hold a banner reading "Gloria in excelsis deo", put to music.

Ghirlandaio was a popular and busy artist, who passed a lot of work to members of his workshop. The man who commissioned this painting had a contract drawn in which the master promised he would do all the painting himself. He also reserved the right not to pay the full price should he not be satisfied with the result. We know that Ghirlandaio did receive the full amount of florins, so the commissioner must have been pleased.

Ghirlandaio shows his skill in working with colours. Note the rhytm that is created especially by the usage of blue.

Some experts think that the scene with the Massacre of the Innocents in the background to the left, was painted by one of Ghirlandaio's employees. So perhaps the master did not keep his word after all...

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