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Adoration of the Shepherds

Benvenuto Tisi, known as Garofalo (Canaro, Rovigo 1476/1481 - Ferrara 1559)

D10. Painters from Ferrara
Oil on wood
37 x 47 cm
San Marco e Cenacoli n. 82

The scene takes place inside a semi-enclosed room which, in the background and thanks to a door and two windows, allows a glimpse of the surrounding landscape.

A little further on, a staircase rises from the bottom to the top: the artist attributes to this element not only a structural function, as a stage backdrop, but also a symbolic meaning. In fact, by connecting the figures of Mary and Joseph to heaven, the ladder helps the observer's gaze make an upward movement, thus relating earthly events to divine will.

The central thematic nucleus of the painting is the adoration of the shepherds.

In the foreground, three men dressed modestly and with faces marked by fatigue are contemplating the child, lying on a white cloth on the hay. The tender innocence of the newborn baby, intent on sucking his own little hand, contrasts with the rough and rugged appearance of the shepherds, who are nevertheless absorbed in sincere and heartfelt adoration.

Mary and Joseph witness with simplicity and participation the unexpected arrival of these men, who were considered the last men by the Jewish society of the time, and yet were participants in the divine event.

A suffused atmosphere, woven by a soft, warm chromatism reminiscent of Titian's painting, pervades the scene. Light radiates delicately from the newborn Jesus and the graceful choir of angels who, like a miniature scene, appear in the heavens to glorify the Saviour.

The panel seems attributable to Garofalo's maturity. In fact, unlike works of a similar subject attributable to his younger years, it is characterised by a dark colour scheme and is influenced by the encounter with the art of Giulio Romano, which can be seen above all in its spatial layout.


A. M. Fioravanti Baraldi, Il Garofalo. Benvenuto Tisi pittore (c. 1476-1559). Catalogo generale, Rimini 1993; A. Pattanaro, ad vocem “Garofalo”, in Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani, Vol. 95 (2019), con bibliografia precedente. https://www.treccani.it/enciclopedia/tisi-benvenuto-detto-garofalo_%28Dizionario-Biografico%29

Text by
Francesca Passerini
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