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Lorenzo Costa, The Adoration of the Shepherds with Angels

Key facts
Full title The Adoration of the Shepherds with the Nine Choirs of Angels
Artist Lorenzo Costa
Artist dates 1460 - 1535
Date made about 1499
Medium and support Oil on wood
Dimensions 52.4 × 37.5 cm
Acquisition credit Layard Bequest, 1916
Inventory number NG3105
Location Gallery B
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
The Adoration of the Shepherds with Angels
Lorenzo Costa

This extraordinary painting is a unique depiction of the Adoration of the Shepherds. The Virgin Mary, Joseph and two shepherds cluster round the infant Christ; the ox and the donkey peer out of the darkness behind them. They are not, however, in a stable in Bethlehem, but gathered in front of a verdant grotto. Two trumpeting angels stand on the rocky outcrops while a host of angels overhead hold the instruments of the Passion (Christ’s torture and crucifixion). The scene is flanked by nine choirs of angels on clouds, who play drums, tambourines, portable organs, lyres and pipes.

This painting was probably made at the very end of the fifteenth century, a date which might help explain its meaning. It was commonly believed that the year 1500 – one and a half thousand years after the birth of Christ – would be marked by some kind of divine intervention in the world, an idea which might have been behind this very unusual painting.

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