While the influence of Italian art in the Netherlands had remained negligible during the fifteenth century, the arrival in 1504 of Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child in Bruges (Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk), and a few years later, Jan Gossaert’s journey to Rome in the company of Philip of Burgundy (1464-1524), caused an abrupt emergence of interest in Italianate models, colouring and heritage. Northern artists were quick to begin following in Gossaert’s footsteps and soon the pictorial idioms of the Netherlands began to change and adapt toward incorporating a plethora of new influences. This large panel dates to the end of the century, when the development of the so-called ‘Romanist’ school in Antwerp especially had reached its apogee. The painter of the Adoration was evidently immersed in the artistic developments of the period and shows a clear awareness of the oeuvre of painters like Frans Floris and the first generation of the Francken artistic dynasty. The sculptural treatment of the figures, bold modelling of features and opulently coloured and dramatically lit draperies are all characteristic of the ‘Romanist’ style, recalling in particular the work of painters like Marten de Vos (1532-1603) and Ambrosius Francken the Elder (1544–1618).
Indeed, the composition of the Adoration is in fact reminiscent of a recently rediscovered panel by de Vos (with Galleria Orsi, 2017), which originally formed the right wing panel of a folding triptych. Though in reverse, the composition is very similar, with the central seated Virgin in pink robes, girdled high beneath the bust, with a green mantle over her lap on which the naked Christ Child sits, twisting around to greet the kneeling magus. The king approaching from behind the Virgin is likewise very similar, wearing a turban surmounted by a crown and holding an ornate gold hanap in his hands, his face foreshortened as he looks down towards Christ. While de Vos’ composition was restricted by the format of the panel it was painted on, the present work allowed for the composition to be expanded and for the grouping of figures to be spaced more widely.