“The Adoration of the Magi” by Sandro Botticelli and Leonardo Da Vinci
In March 1481, the monks of the Florentine monastery of San Donato and Scopetto turned to the notary Pietro of Vinci with a request to find an artist who could write an altar painting for the cathedral. Pietro immediately offered the services of his son Leonardo, who recently graduated from Verrocchio. At the same time the contract was concluded, where the working conditions were determined. The artist was given the task of painting a 2.5×2.5 m size in oil on a blackboard in two – two and a half years. The plot of the Adoration of the Magi is one of the episodes of the Gospel legend.
Three ancient wise men-forecasters (Magi – the ancient Russian name of astrologers) noticed a new star in the sky. They interpreted her as a sign of the birth of an extraordinary baby. Following the guiding star, they found the recently born Jesus Christ and his mother Mary in the city of Bethlehem. Bowing before a wonderful baby, the Magi brought gifts – gold, frankincense and myrrh (fragrant pitch). The theme “Adoration of the Magi” addressed many artists. In theological works there is no consensus about who the wise men are, what they looked like, where they came from: from Arabia, Ancient Babylon or mysterious India? All this allowed the artists to give their own interpretation of the plot.
At the end of the 15th century, when Leonardo began his career, the so-called “Platonov Academy” became the center of the cultural life of Florence. She united scientists, writers and philosophers of the time. The patron of the academy was the unwritten ruler of the city of Lorenzo Medici, nicknamed the Magnificent. Translations and interpretations of the works of ancient authors, in which Florentine academics were engaged, influenced their attitude to the visual arts. Painting seemed to them to be nothing more than an illustration of philosophical ideas and poetic compositions. This was reflected in the work of the artist closest to the academy – Sandro Botticelli. Following the instructions of mentors, he created several works that were reconstructions of paintings by ancient artists or served as an interpretation of the poems of the poet Angelo Poliziano.
Indicative for the creativity of Botticelli painting “The Adoration of the Magi.” At first glance, it is no different from the work of other artists on the same plot. Perhaps there is only more solemnity and festivity typical of Botticelli’s handwriting. Diffused light allows it to subtly model volumes, soothes the brightness of clothes and only occasionally flashes bright reflections on metal objects and gold embroidery. The faces and figures of the characters are amazingly finely written.
But if you look closely at the picture, the question naturally arises: why did the artist so clearly tried to draw attention to the individual figures? Why in the foreground portrayed a young man leaning on a sword, out of place in the scene of “Worship”? If we consider the structure of the composition, it will become clear that it is built in the form of a triangle and the top of it is the group of Mary with the baby. But in the shallow space of the picture, closed by rock and the remains of the walls, the viewer’s eye is transferred from the small central figures to the group of magically dressed Magus. Thus, the semantic center of the composition is shifted, and the main plot is relegated to the background.
It is known that the picture was made to order. In the right part of it, Botticelli tried to present characters who obviously could not fit into the composition. He captured their profiles superimposed on each other, like images on Egyptian reliefs. Only a small part of the face was visible to the viewer, but the figures themselves did not have enough space. It is legitimate to ask why such a skilful master as Botticelli needed to overload the already shallow work space, thereby violating its integrity? Isn’t it easier to eliminate unnecessary pieces? Apparently, Botticelli received from the customer exact instructions on who and how it is necessary to portray in the picture and what she should tell the audience. And there were a lot of spectators, almost all of Florence, as the piece was intended for the church of Santa Maria Novella, one of the most revered in the city.
Knowledge of the history of Florence at the end of the 15th century will help to understand the reasons for such a composition and more accurately date the “Adoration of the Magi” Art researchers relate the time of creation to 1475-1478 years. And it can be assumed that only one significant event that occurred at the end of this period could be reflected in the picture. In April 1478, a group of conspirators led by the Pazzi family attacked the Medici brothers to seize power in the city. They managed to kill one of them, Giuliano, but the ruler of the city Lorenzo the Magnificent escaped thanks to the help of the poet Angelo Poliziano. The conspiracy was crushed with extraordinary cruelty, and subsequently the Medici opponents were subjected to constant harassment.