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Luca Signorelli, The Adoration of the Shepherds

Key facts
Full title The Adoration of the Shepherds
Artist Luca Signorelli
Artist dates about 1440/50 - 1523
Date made about 1496
Medium and support Oil on wood
Dimensions 215 × 170.2 cm
Inscription summary Signed
Acquisition credit Bought, 1882
Inventory number NG1133
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
The Adoration of the Shepherds
Luca Signorelli

The focus of this large altarpiece is the tiny infant Christ – he lies on the ground, his head supported by a small cushion. His mother, the Virgin Mary, kneels behind him, surrounded by angels. Also gathered in worship are Mary’s husband Joseph and, to the left, four shepherds.

The shepherds appear only in the Gospel of Luke, which describes how they saw a vision of the angel of the Lord who told them the news of Christ’s birth. Signorelli has depicted this event on the hillside to the left of the picture.

Drawing was an important part of Signorelli’s artistic process and he planned his paintings with careful preparatory studies. A study for the group of shepherds (British Museum, London) is covered with a grid, probably to help the artist copy it to scale for the painting.

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