Skip to main content

Sensing the Unseen: Step into Gossaert's 'Adoration'

Issued September 2020

9 December 2020 – 28 February 2021
Room 1
Admission free

A new immersive digital experience inspired by Jan Gossaert's 16th-century masterpiece The Adoration of the Kings will open at the National Gallery over the Christmas period.

'Sensing the Unseen: Step into Gossaert’s ‘Adoration’ will show one of the Gallery’s most popular pictures as never before and is designed to allow for digital immersion while maintaining social distancing.

As visitors view the painting, the voice of one of its depicted characters, King Balthasar, will speak to them before light and sound lead them into individual ‘pods’ to experience an interactive version of the painting.

In the pods, visitors will encounter a large screen featuring a digital image of the painting which has been ‘sonified’ using ambient sound, poetic spoken word and music. Visitors will zoom into details of the painting in an aural and visual experience that places them in the world of the painting and helps them discover and navigate previously unseen elements. These include those that the artist playfully hid away as well as those which reveal the way he used individual brushstrokes and techniques such as blotted glazes to create such intricate detail.

One of the great works of the Northern Renaissance, everything about the construction, composition, content and detail of this painting is designed to focus the viewer on the tiny naked Christ Child in the middle of a desolate scene of ruins. A picture of birth, death and renewal, its exaggerated use of space and perspective gives the sense that the whole world is coming to view this scene; the series of contrasts suggests a moment of significant change in a decaying world (such as the richly dressed kings pictured with dogs at their feet scrapping around amongst weeds and broken stones.)

The experience begins with the African kings Balthasar’s voice speaking of this transformative moment in time. As the king standing to the left of Mary and the baby Jesus, and with his attendant behind him, Balthasar is the character who best represents the journey to this point of revelation, as he waits in suspense to see the baby Jesus. The importance of Balthasar is highlighted by the fact that Gossaert signed the painting in two places – on his hat and on the collar of his attendant.

Image: Artist’s impression of 'Sensing the Unseen: Step into Gossaert’s ‘Adoration’’ Image by Vasilija Abramovic © The National Gallery, London

The exhibition explores approaches to both sound and interactive design and has been developed by an interdisciplinary team of Gallery experts, artists, designers, technologists and creatives working closely with our audiences.

'Sensing the Unseen: Step into Gossaert’s ‘Adoration’' is the first of a series of  Room 1 exhibitions to be supported by the Capricorn Foundation for the next three years in memory of the late Mr H J Hyams.   

It is curated by Dr Susan Foister, the Gallery’s Deputy Director and Curator of Early Netherlandish and German Paintings.

Exhibition supported by

The Capricorn Foundation in memory of Mr H J Hyams


Publicity images can be obtained from 

'Sensing the Unseen: Step into Gossaert’s ‘Adoration’'
9 December 2020 - 28 February 2021
The National Gallery
Room 1
Admission free

Press view: Tuesday 8 December 2020


NG2790: Jan Gossaert (Jean Gossart)
active 1508; died 1532

'The Adoration of the Kings', 1510-15
Oil on oak, 179.8 × 163.2 cm

This large altarpiece is crammed with peasants, animals, angels and richly dressed kings and courtiers, come to worship the infant Christ, who sits on his mother’s lap in a palatial but ruined building.

Jean Gossart has signed the painting on the hat of Balthasar, the king on the left, and on the silver collar of his attendant. Technical analysis has revealed the skill, time and effort which the artist put into this picture. There is a considerable amount of underdrawing and a great many changes made at all stages, all apparently done by Gossart himself. There are virtuoso passages of detail, especially in the foreground: the hairs sprouting from Caspar’s cheek and the decoration of his hat; the fringes of Balthasar’s stole.

By 1600 this painting was perhaps in the abbey of St Adrian at Geraardsbergen (Graamont) in East Flanders. Gossart seems to have painted it for the church between about 1510 and 1515, probably for the funerary chapel of Daniel van Boechout, lord of Boelare near Geraardsbergen.

For more information: