Adoration of the Magi

Adoration of the Magi c1479-81

This unfinished altarpiece was originally commissioned by the monks of San Donato a Scopeto, a monastery near Florence, in March 1481. Leonardo’s father, who administered the monastery’s finances, may have played a role in obtaining the commission. The painting was left unfinished by Leonardo when he moved to Milan sometime before 1483.

In this painting, Mary is seated with the Christchild in the centre of the composition in front of a rocky landscape, surrounded by a large number of figures, the identity of which remains unclear (it is uncertain which figure is Joseph). In the foreground, the three kings who followed the Star of Bethlehem on their journey from the East, kneel in worship before the Christchild. In the background we can see the ruins of King David’s palace, alluded to in the Old Testament as the ancestor and precursor of Christ, and figures on horseback engaged in violent combat. These may be a reference to the enmity that was said to exist between the three kings, or to the chaos of the world prior to the coming of Christ.

Leonardo’s Adoration represents the moment when the second king offers his gift of frankincense, traditionally a symbol of the Eucharist, to the Christ-child who willingly receives it, a symbolic gesture of his acceptance of his fate.

  • Medium Oil on wood panel
  • Size 24.3 x 24.6 cm
  • Location Galleria degli Uffizi

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