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Bartholomaeus Spranger, 'The Adoration of the Kings', about 1595

Key facts
Full title The Adoration of the Kings
Artist Bartholomaeus Spranger
Artist dates 1546 - 1611
Date made about 1595
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 199.8 × 143.7 cm
Inscription summary Signed; Inscribed
Acquisition credit Bought, 1970
Inventory number NG6392
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
The Adoration of the Kings
Bartholomaeus Spranger

The Three Kings have arrived to worship the newborn Christ. The Virgin Mary presents the baby, who has a bright halo of light around his tiny head, to the kneeling king, who takes the child’s small foot in his hand in order to kiss it. Spranger has positioned the two other kings around the mother and child; both proudly bear ornate gold vessels containing their gifts. They stand elegantly, their limbs curving and arching gracefully. The citrus colours of the kings' clothing – peach shot with bright orange and acidic yellow – stand out in the darkness.

The self-conscious glamour of the figures is a feature of the style known as Mannerism. Its elegance and flamboyance suited the tastes of wealthy and sophisticated patrons, making it a popular style in courtly circles. Spranger was originally from Antwerp, but became court painter to the Holy Roman Emperor, Rudolf II. This painting may have been commissioned as a gift for one of Rudolf’s loyal German bishops.

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