Anthonie Blocklandt's The Adoration of the Magi was most likely painted for use in a private chapel or church. Although not monumental in size, the powerful, bottom-heavy composition and the heroic proportions of the figures make it ideally suited to being viewed from a low vantage point.
A group of shepherds and shepherdesses are crowded into the confined space, all focused on the infant Christ at the center of the scene. The figures at the uppermost corners of the composition bend over to better see the Child, leaving room at the upper right for a view of the landscape through which they have traveled and, in the process, rounding the upper contour of the figural group in reference to the traditional form of an altarpiece. The Virgin sits on the ground, her outstretched leg extended by the drapery of her robe to span the width of the panel. Her body frames the composition at the lower left and this bold assertion of the Virgin's physicality is underlined by the appearance of her foot at the lower right and the prominence of her hands intervening in the space between the viewer and the body of Christ, paralleling her role as intercessor. Indeed, the central opening in which the Child appears is marked by pairs of hands, held loosely together, with fingertips touching or crossed over the chest. Not only do the prominence of the hands signal Christ's ultimate vulnerability to human misdeeds, they assert - if abstractly - the presence of the artist who appears at the upper left looking out at the viewer.
The Mannerist emphasis on physicality can also be seen in the exaggerated musculature of the shepherd at the upper left and the veined, work-worn hands of the figure at the lower right. Blocklandt's total disregard for the representation of a convincing space signals a deliberate departure from Renaissance principles. He used space for more expressive ends, in this case to convey the intensity of the shepherds' journey and the far-reaching implications of their revelation.
The scale of the painting and the size of the figures within the composition speak to Blocklandt's training with Antwerp history painter Frans Floris in the early 1550s. He settled in Delft in 1552 and is documented as having traveled to Rome some twenty years later in the company of a Delft goldsmith. His Italian influences include Federico Zuccaro and Jacopo Bertoia, particularly the latter's works in the Oratory of San Lucia in Rome. The figural types and attenuated limbs of Parmigianino can also be seen in Blocklandt's Venus and Cupid in (Národní Galerie, Prague) and some of his compositions recall the graphic work of Andrea Schiavone. Although Blocklandt's oeuvre is relatively small and he is less well known today than Floris, his appeal for his contemporaries is reflected in engravings after his work by Antwerp printmaker Philip Galle. His oil sketches of 1574 served as designs for Galle's engravings of the Four Evangelists and his Life of Adonis was the basis for Galle's series on the subject published in the 1570s.