Polidoro da Lanciano

The Adoration of the Magi

Polidoro di Paolo de Renzi detto
( Lanciano (Abruzzes), 1515 - Venise, 1565 )

Oil on canvas 61.4x77 cm

“Venetian Paintings. From Titian to El Greco”, Piero Corsini Inc., New York, 1991

Frank Dabell, in “Venetian Paintings. From Titian to El Greco”, Piero Corsini Inc., New York, 1991, pp. 24-27, no. 3.

This Adoration of the Magi was no doubt intended for private devotion. The Holy Family is set against the ruins of a building in an idyllic landscape. Drawn to Bethlehem by the star, depicted symbolically above the Holy Family, the three Kings pay homage to the Saviour. The oldest, Caspar, humbly offers his gift to the Child; Melchior kneels behind him; and the Moorish Balthazar stands over them, his pink cape caught by the wind.

The first two Magi resemble donor figures in typical early Sacre Conversazioni by Titian or, indeed, by Polidoro himself such as the little-known Holy Family with Two Donors (fig. 1; Notre Dame, Indiana, The Snite Museum of Art, 57.64). (1)

The lively pose of the Christ Child reappears in the Snite canvas and reflects a popular motif derived from Titian through whose workshop Polidoro may have passed. Our young bearded King could be a brother of the foremost donor in the Snite painting, the image of a young Venetian patrician in the early Cinquecento. In its conception, our Adoration also looks to similar paintings by Bonifazio Veronese such as his Sacra Conversazione of ca. 1526/27 (San Francisco, Fine Arts Museums). (2)

The scene is set in a breezy landscape reminiscent of Northern Italy. The first two Kings’ attire is certainly suited to a cool day in the Veneto, and their robes resemble those worn by donors in Venetian paintings of the period. The Virgin’s head is of a type which recurs especially in the paintings of Savoldo, for example in his Rest on the Flight into Egypt (Private Collection) exhibited in the 1990 Savoldo exhibition (3). Joseph’s head can be compared with that of Saint Anthony in Savoldo’s The Temptation of Saint Anthony Abbot (San Diego, Timken Art Gallery), datable to the 1530s (4).

The fluid, broad handling of paint in the drapery passages of our Adoration and the swift, small strokes that highlight the trees in the background are characteristic of Polidoro.

1 - Illustrated by Bernard Berenson, Italian Pictures of the Renaissance. Venetian school, London, 1957, vol. II, pl. 1031 as formerly in the collection of Frank and Henry Farrer, london; see also Art Journal, XXI, Summer 1962, p. 259 and fig. 5.
2 - See Simonetti, art. cit. in note 1, pp. 98 (no. 7) and 238.
3 - See exh. cat. cit. in note 1, pp.130-31, no. I.13.
4 - See Antonio Boschetto, Giovan Gerolamo Savoldo, Milan, 1963, pl. 18 (this picture was still in private hands at the time).