Arts Everyday Living: Celebrating the Holidays in Art–Adoration of the Magi, A Museum Treasure

Fra Angelico and Fra Filippo Lippi, The Adoration of the Magi, c. 1440/1460, tempera on poplar panel, Samuel H. Kress Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.


Title: The Adoration of the Magi, 1440/1460

Fra Angelico (c. 1395-1455) and Fra Filippo Lippi (c. 1406-1469)

Have you ever seen such a crowd? Coming from all directions to honor the Christ Child and his proud  parents, Mary and Joseph in The Adoration of the Magi above. At the front are the three kings, attired in flowing robes and wearing sparkler-type haloes. While just behind them is a stream of enthusiastic worshippers of various ages and backgrounds. Although the more fortunate have access to horses and camels, the majority of followers have probably walked long distances to witness this unforgettable event. At times packed together as they push through the archway, in the long line emerging from the mountains in the background.

Yet, notice too the mass of people in the upper right section of the circular tondo, a panel format popular in the Italian Renaissance. At the very top is a multitude of humanity, too numerous to count and to clearly view. Are they returning from their pilgrimage? Perhaps like the trail of figures moving downward just below being welcomed home by their families. (If you look closely, you can see the camel.)

Then, in the center, directly behind the Holy Family, is a stable where the ox and donkey (eating some hay) patiently wait unconcerned by the activity of the blacksmiths and other workers nearby.  Even farther back emerging from a ruined building is a mysterious group of barely clad men (including a nude) whom art historians still have not identified.  Could they be beggars or even lepers?

Don’t forget the shepherds who are also included in the celebration. Can you pick them out in their humble dress? How about the peacock up on the roof, probably a symbol of the future resurrection? Or the dog positioned in the foreground, known for his steadfast loyalty?

The Adoration of the Magi was actually created in the 1400s by two Florentine artists Fra Angelico and Fra Filippo Lippi, the latter credited with painting most of this Renaissance treasure presently hanging in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.  Still beautifully preserved after almost seven centuries, radiant with vibrant multi-colors, gold work, and luminous light, definitely a perfect Christmas card for the holiday season.



In the public domain, courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

The National Gallery of Art does not endorse or approve use of the above image or any of the material on this website. Nor has the National Gallery of Art participated in any projects utilizing the said image.


Give the Gift of Art for the Holidays