Three men have followed a star – you can see it just inside the stable – to pay homage to the infant Christ. These wise men, sometimes called kings – here they all have crowns – are shown kneeling before him. One has set his crown aside and kisses the newborn’s foot, showing reverence to him.
This panel has been associated with the Florentine painter Zanobi Strozzi, who was also a skilled manuscript illuminator. Illuminations were often highly decorative with plenty of gold leaf and minute attention to detail. The meadow that the kings and their attendants kneel in is filled with a variety of tiny flowers and grasses; some look like daisies. Their costumes are embellished with gold patterns.
We don’t know which altarpiece this predella (the lowest part of an altarpiece) panel belonged to, but it has been connected with a panel showing the Nativity of Christ in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Three men have followed a star – you can see it just inside the stable – to find and pay homage to the newborn Christ. These wise men, sometimes called kings – here they all have crowns – are shown kneeling before the Christ Child. One has set his crown aside and kisses the newborn’s foot, showing reverence to him. This story is told in Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 2: 1–9).
Joseph holds the first king’s gift, a detail that seems to come from earlier paintings of the adoration of the kings which, like this one, were made in Florence. The other kings await their turn; their gifts, housed in elaborate gilded boxes, are covered in transparent veils, a sign of their sacred nature. The biblical account tells us that they offered gold, frankincense and myrrh – the first a fitting gift for a king and the other two the precious spices used to anoint Christ’s body after his death. The artist has emphasised the wealth and splendour of the kings by including the attendants who have travelled with them; two pages restrain their horses in the background.
This panel has been associated with the Florentine painter Zanobi Strozzi, who was also a highly skilled manuscript illuminator. The panel does resemble an illumination in a manuscript, which were richly decorated luxury objects. Here, the meadow is filled with a variety of tiny flowers and grasses – some look like daisies – and the costumes of the kings and attendants are embellished with gold patterns. In the 1430s, when this panel was made, Zanobi was working in a similar way to Fra Angelico whose style was also highly decorative, often described as ‘courtly’ (meaning it was suitable for a high-status, wealthy client). The Virgin’s gesture – crossing her right hand across her breast – is similar to that in Fra Angelico’s Linaioli Tabernacle, also dated to 1433 and now in the National Museum of San Marco, Florence.
We don’t know which altarpiece this predella panel belonged to but it has been connected with a scene of the Nativity of Christ (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). Technical examination of the two panels show that they were painted on the same piece of wood.
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