“Adoration of the Magi”
Tempera on panel
45 in x 72 in
Uffizi Gallery, Florence
Lorenzo Monaco was born in 1370 in Siena, and when he was twenty he joined the Camaldolese monastery of Santa Maria degli Angeli. While he was there he realized his love for art as a result of creating artwork for the convent, and eventually left the monastery to pursue his career as an artist. He painted many religious works up until 1422, and Adoration of the Magi was his last major painting before he died in 1424.
Monaco painted during the late Gothic and early Renaissance age, and therefore implemented a lot of International Gothic style elements into his paintings. When the Renaissance began and new art styles were introduced like more geometrical perspectives, Monaco was famous for his refusal of the new styles and his continuation of Gothic style in his paintings. Adoration of the Magi shows the presence of the Gothic style with the relatively dark and muted colors, realistic detail and landscape in the background, a sense of depth to the picture, and the elongated figures. The painting’s upper part is in the form of a frame creating a triptych, which is also an element of Gothic style and is a trait that can be seen in the work of Botticelli who also painted in the Gothic style. The architecture behind Mary and Jesus on the left side of the painting also shows Monaco’s persistence to stay true to the Gothic style because it is not geometrically accurate, and is not realistic at all.
A majority of the symbolism found in this piece of art is themed around the idea of the acceptance of a variety of followers of Jesus Christ. The three main Magi in the front are of all different ages to represent the various stages of man, showing that people of all ages are capable of worshiping the baby Jesus. The rest of the Magi in the background have a variety of skin and clothing colors, garment designs, and animals to show that people of all land and ethnic backgrounds can come worship the King. One Magi even has garments with Arabic writing on them, further emphasizing the message of diversity. In addition, Monaco strategized to have baby Jesus be the clear focus point of the painting, despite the fact that he is not in the center of the scene — every person in the painting is pointed toward and facing Mary and Jesus, giving him their full attention.
The way in which Monaco subtly created baby Jesus to the center of the painting shows the thought and skill that he has as an artist. Although I didn’t consciously realize it, my focus was pointed toward Mary and the child before looking at the Magi, therefore proving Monaco’s success at accomplishing his goal. Because the diversity is so obvious, the idea of people from all over the world coming together to worship baby Jesus is strongly portrayed to anyone who looks at the painting. The fact that halos are painted around the three main wise men and then Mary, Joseph, and Jesus show the divinity in this moment, and the way in which Monaco painted Mary and Jesus sitting slightly higher than many of the figures help me to further acknowledge this this is no ordinary baby — this is the Son of God, born of the Virgin Mary, who came to Earth to save me from my sins.
Fossi, Gloria (2004). Uffizi. Florence: Giunti.