“Adoration of the Magi of 1475”
Tempera on panel
44 in x 53 in
Uffizi Gallery, Florence
Sandro Botticelli was initially trained as a goldsmith when he was younger, but when he was about fourteen years old he became an apprentice to artist Filippo Lippi. It was from Lippi that he gained his personal artistic style, and by 1470 he had his own workshop in Florence. Botticelli is famous for his Primavera and Birth of Venus paintings, which both implement the style of Gothic realism and are focused on the mythological character of Venus. Adoration of the Magi was completed later in Botticelli’s life, and was commissioned by Italian banker Gaspare di Zanobi del Lama, who wanted the painting for his chapel in Santa Maria Novella. He didn’t become well known as an artist until centuries after his death when his work was rediscovered in the late 19th century.
Adoration of the Magi was created in the Early Renaissance, during which many artists depicted scenes based off of Jesus’ life. It’s hard to describe Early Renaissance art because it was a time of experimentation and therefore a variety of artistic styles were implemented. Botticelli’s Adoration of the Magi is extremely detailed, and it is believed that his extreme attention to detail in this piece of work was influenced by his being in the Flemish school that he was attending while he was painting it. The realistic aspect of the painting is seen by the naturalistic background and the detail placed in facial expressions, body positions, and garments. The clothing is made up of a variety of colors and each garment has a different style to it that shows Botticelli’s attempt to show the realistically wide range of believers. The naturalism of the scene is also supported in the fact that Botticelli did not paint halos over Mary and Jesus, showing that the scene is not necessarily a divine or supernatural experience.
The painting is believed to contain members of the Medici family as figures of the nativity scene: Cosimo de’ Medici is the Magi kneeling in front of baby Jesus, and and his sons Piero and Giovanni are the second and third wise men kneeling. Even though the figures in the painting are supposed to be representative of the Medici family, all of them were dead at the time the picture was painted. Botticelli chose to base his painting off of the family in order to show the power in both the church and the state that the Medici had at that time in Florence. His intentions as an artist were therefore not to show a touching scene of Jesus’ birth but to show his admiration of the Medici and the power they held.
Despite the fact that I like the artistic style with which Botticelli painted Adoration of the Magi of 1475, I do not like the fact that he designed this painting to represent the power of the Medici family in Florence in the 15th century. I commend Botticelli for his genius use of symbolism to portray the Medici men as the powerful magi, choosing a beautiful moment like Jesus’ birth to represent family power is almost disrespectful — paintings that depict historic moments from the Bible should be produced for that mere religious purpose only, not to implement some other message. I think that the painting is done beautifully, and if Botticelli had created it with more religiously-based intentions I would have definitely appreciated his work more.