29 November 2000
ADORATION OF THE MAGI, a miniature from an ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM
[Lombardy, probably Milan, 1500-1510]
205 x 147mm. The Virgin seated within a stable with the Christ Child on her lap, surrounded by the three kings and their attendants, a peacock in the foreground; a procession of the kings' retinue with a camel in the middle distance, a town below a rocky outcrop and a hill-top town beyond, bordered with a frame of liquid gold, laid down on paper (some overpainting).
This large and accomplished miniature is likely to have come from a sumptuous and important Book of Hours. The landscape forms and the figures with their high foreheads can be paralleled in the miniature of the 1496 meeting between Massimiliano Sforza and his namesake, the Emperor Maximilian, in the Liber Jesus (Milan, Biblioteca Trivulziana, Ms 2163: G. Bologna, Libri per un educazione rinascimentale: Grammatica del Donato, Liber Jesus, 1980). An educational compilation made for the infant son of the Duke of Milan, the Liber Jesus was probably completed by 1498, while a later date is indicated for the Adoration by the headgear of the Magus on the left, made fashionable in Italy by German soldiers in the early 16th century.
We are grateful to Marco Tanzi for his observation of the close similarity between this Adoration and the paintings -- for example the polyptych of the Carmine, Pavia -- of Bernardino Lanzani. This Lombard artist was called by Lodovico il Moro to paint the 'sala della balla' in the Castello of Milan in 1490.
The present miniature is a varied and complex presentation of a popular subject with particular resonance for Milan -- the Magi's relics had been kept in Sant'Eustorgio, and a confraternity of the Magi annually re-enacted their journey with a procession complete with exotic beasts from the ducal menagerie.
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