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Adoration of the Child

Gerrit Van Honthorst (Utrecht 1590-1656)

1619-1620 c.
E6. Painting by Candlelight
Oil on canvas
95.5 × 131 cm
1890 no. 739

The Dutch painter Gerrit van Honthorst was called Gherardo delle Notti (literally Gerard of the nights) because of his peculiar compositions in nocturnal lighting influenced by Caravaggio that he met in Rome in the first decades of the 17th century. During his stay in Italy, Honthorst met Grand Duke Cosimo II de’ Medici, who bought some of his works in 1620, among which probably this Adoration of the Child.

The divine light spread from the newborn’s body softens each feature, in particular the facial ones of the Virgin. On the right side of the canvas, St. Joseph is leaning against his cane and looking at the child with a mixed expression of love and joy. The enchanted gaze of the two angels bent over the manger is full of affection: their blushed cheeks and soft curls give more naturalness to their childlike faces. Their smiles are spontaneous like those portrayed from real life: indeed, painters often used their apprentices as models for their works. Like the angels, also St. Joseph seems to be portrayed from real life: with a thick grizzled beard, his face is marked by wrinkles that show his advanced age, compared to that of the Virgin, and his fatigue due to his craft job.

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