Adoration of the Magi by Leonardo da Vinci returned to the Uffizi Gallery in March 2017 after a long period of restoration. It’s an important work, that was considered revolutionary at the time. Both for the technique that Leonardo used, and his arrangement of the figures in the scene. It’s an impressive work, and at 246 cm. x243 cm. is the biggest painting by Leonardo Da Vinci ever seen.
If you’d like to know more about this masterpiece, read on…
Adoration of the Magi by Leonardo Da Vinci – interesting facts
What is this painting about?
The Adoration of the Magi was a very common subject in 15th century Florence. The scene represents the new era of Christianity that was born to the world with Jesus, and its triumph over Pagan values. Here the ancient pagan world is represented by the building crumbling in the background. This could be a reference to the Basilica of Maxentius which, according to Medieval legend, collapsed on the night of Christ’s birth.
The picture’s core is simple: the Virgin Mary is sitting alone with her child, and in front of her we see the three submissive kings, in a quiet and peaceful space. Behind them, a disorderly mix of figures that seem to violate the stillness of the holy scene.
When and why was it painted?
This is an early work by Leonardo done in 1481, at the time when he was still living in Florence. He had completed his apprenticeship in the renowned workshop of the great sculptor Verrocchio, where also Botticelli and Ghirlandaio studied. By 1478 Da Vinci was already working as an independent master. It was commissioned by the monks of San Donato in Scopeto monastery.
Why does it look unfinished?
This work is essentially the first stage of a painting. Leonardo Da Vinci left for Milan before completing it. But it wasn’t the only one of his works to be left incomplete. Some he left unfinished because of his doubts about the aesthetic result. At other times his experiments with new techniques proved unsuccessful. One example is the fresco depicting the “Battle of Anghiari” in the Hall of 500 in Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, eventually covered over by a later Vasari fresco.
In this painting Leonardo Da Vinci used a revolutionary technique, known as the sfumato. He was the first to use it on a large scale. Vinci described sfumato as being “without lines or borders, in the manner of smoke or beyond the focus plane”. The world sfumato comes from the Italian “fumo’ meaning “smoke”.
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Leonardo was one of the first artists to study animal and human anatomy. It’s thought that as part of these studies he dissected corpses to find out how the machine of the body worked. He was able to reproduce this in great detail in his painting and drawings, making the figures look real.
Is there a resemblance with The Last Supper?
There’s a similarity between the structure of this painting and The Last Supper. They both use the shape of a triangle at the centre to give stability to the scene. While in the background, around the main figures of Mary, the Child and the Magi, there’s an almost chaotic collection of figures and gestures. In the The Last Supper, we see Jesus at the centre surrounded by the apostles reacting to his announcement that one of them will betray him.
How long did it take to restore the Adoration of the Magi?
The restoration work lasted six years, and was done at the Opificio delle Pietre Dure in Florence, a global leader in art restoration. The work managed to reveal some figures and details that before had not been visible.
According to some art experts, the young man on the right is a self-portrait of Leonardo Da Vinci himself.
Art passionate? Discover all the most famous paintings to be found in the Uffizi Gallery.
In the Uffizi you find the “Adoration of the Magi” by Botticelli, that most likely inspired Leonardo when he was painting his.