1 August 2014
Adoration of the Magi
Art has always been an extremely important part of the history of human civilization and the Renaissance period is most definitely no exception. I see art as a window into another time period giving us hints of not only what happened in history, but how did the given historical event make people of the period feel? I have chosen to take a closer look at the painting Adoration of the Magi in the hopes to better understand the period in which this piece was conceived, not only its historical significance but also its symbolic deeper meanings. The Adoration of the Magi demonstrates the context of the Renaissance in two key aspects. Not only does it display use of renaissance art techniques such as naturalism and perspective but also symbolically represents the power of the Medici family in Florence, Italy during the early renaissance. What I found particularly interesting about this painting was its simultaneous use of a secular and a non-secular theme. While this is obviously a painting deeply rooted in Catholic tradition, it also depicts members of Medici family and the esteemed artist himself Sandro Botticelli. I) Adoration of the Magi is a Tempera painting on panel. It is relatively small compared to other paintings of this time measuring only 44in x 53in. The painting’s scene portrays a very popular catholic theme. This setting displays the nativity scene of Jesus with members of the Medici family depicted as characters within the scene. “Cosimo [Medici] is dressed as the eldest magus and kneels before the Christ child. Looking on from the right side, in a black robe with a red stripe is Lorenzo the Magnificient, Cosimo’s grandson” ( Sanry, p. 473). This piece is asymmetrical in nature and uses neutral colors on the architecture, while in contrast, using vibrant bold colors to accentuate the people within the painting, primarily the members of the Medici family as well as the Virgin Mary and, of course, Jesus. It’s not particularly unique to see a Renaissance painting that depicts a scene from the bible or any sort of religious theme for that matter. However, I did find it interesting and almost egotistical of the Medici to have themselves depicted in the scene, putting themselves almost on the same level as Jesus and The Virgin Mary.
II) In order to better understand the historical significance of the Adoration of the Magi it is important to first recognize that “the Medici family was the most powerful family in Florentine affairs for 76 years” (Sanry, p. 473). According to The Humanities: Culture, Continuity & Change, the Medici’s power began when Cosimo Medici became banker of the papacy in 1418 ultimately obtaining domination over the opposing city of Sienna, it was from here on that the Medici “managed Florentine affairs from behind the scenes” for nearly 8 decades (Sanry, p. 473). Needless to say the Medici having this kind of power had both positive and negative outcomes for Florence. Although perhaps the most significant form of positive persuasion used by Cosimo Medici was “exerting considerable influence through his patronage of the arts” (Sanry, p. 473). It was estimated by Lorenzo Medici, Cosimo’s grandson, that the family had spent around 600,000 florins (Around 60 million dollars in today’s money) from 1434 to 1494 on public purposes (Sanry, p. 474). This includes but is not limited to: art, architecture and even music. After the death of Cosimo Medici and his son Piero, Lorenzo was left to lead the family in its affairs (Sanry, p. 476).
Cosimo Medici was gone but his patronage of the arts still carried on through his grandson Lorenzo. “Lorenzo’s circle of acquaintances included some of the greatest minds of the day” (Sanry, p. 476). This includes the Renaissance artist Sandro Botticelli who was a frequent guest within the Medici household (Sanry, p. 476). It was around 1475 when both Lorenzo’s influence as well as the wealth of