The Adoration of the Kings

In this unusual rendering of the Adoration, the Three Kings presenting their gifts are treated as caricatures and the Virgin is not idealised. The work is composed from a high viewpoint, focusing attention on the Infant Christ on his mother's lap, at the exact centre of the picture. People crowd around them and there is little sense of depth or space. The elongated figures of the Kings are characteristic of a painting style that was fashionable around this time.

A figure on the extreme right wears spectacles. His presence may indicate that those around Christ are blind to his significance; Bruegel has used spectacles on other occasions to signify in an ironic manner the inability of the subject to see the truth. Most of the figures, in fact, appear to be gently mocked by the artist.

It is uncommon for soldiers to be included in a depiction of the Adoration. As in other works by Bruegel, their presence may reflect the Spanish occupation of the Netherlands at this time.

Key facts

Artist dates
active 1550/1; died 1569
Full title
The Adoration of the Kings
Date made
Medium and support
Oil on oak
112.1 × 83.9 cm
Inscription summary
Signed; Dated
Acquisition credit
Bought with contributions from the Art Fund and Arthur Serena through the Art Fund, 1920
Inventory number
Location in Gallery