Adoration of the Magi
Filippino Lippi (Prato 1457 c. – Florence 1504)
FILIPPUS ME PINSIT DE LIPI FLORENTINUS ADDI 29 DI MARZO 1496
This composition is so rich with characters that it is difficult to recognise the three kings who have come from the east to pay homage to the Christ Child, and who kneel before him offering their precious gifts in elegantly made pots. The child, seated in his mother’s lap, holds the first gift, offered by the oldest king, under the thoughtful gaze of his father, Joseph. Among the figures in the retinue of the magi, our attention is drawn to the kneeling man to the left wearing a sumptuous, fur-lined yellow robe and who carries an astrolabe, alluding to the astrological knowledge of the magi. This figure is thought to be Pier Francesco de’ Medici (1430-1476), to whom the Augustinian friars from the church of San Donato a Scopeto in Florence, who commissioned the work, evidently wanted to pay homage. Pier Francesco's sons, Lorenzo (1463-1503) and Giovanni (1467-1498) are perhaps recognizable as the king being crowned and the young blond alongside him, holding the vase. The scene is set in a country landscape, in front of a stable over which the star that guided the kings is shining. In the background, there are scenes of their journey, from the sighting of the star to their passage via Herod’s palace.
The panel was painted by Filippino Lippi for the main altar of the church of San Donato a Scopeto in Florence, in place of the one commissioned from Leonardo da Vinci several years before, but never completed. The back is signed: “Filippus me pinsit de Lipis florentinus addi 29 di marzo 1496”.