Adoration of the Shepherds (Portinari Triptych)
Oil on wood, 253 x 141 cm
Uffizi Galleries, Gallery of Statues and Paintings
Inv. 1890 nos. 3191-3192-3193
Consisting of three panels, this large painting was painted in Bruges by famous Flemish artist Hugo van der Goes, and it was commissioned by Tommaso Portinari, Florentine banker at the head of the local Medici bank. The work was brought by sea as far as Pisa, before travelling up the Arno and arriving in Florence on 28 May 1483, when it was placed in the church of Sant’Egidio in the Hospital of Santa Maria Nuova, historically under the patronage of the Portinari family.
The central panel, which is almost entirely occupied by a Nordic-style building, shows a group of shepherds, painted in a realistic manner, humbly kneeling before the Christ Child, from whom a divine light is shining. Mary too, imposing in her blue robes, observes the Child lovingly, while the scene is completed by St. Joseph and a series of angels, in a semicircle around the Child.
The side panels of the triptych continue the central panel, with the prosecution of the landscape, which is dotted with houses and castles, shown in the minutest details (according to a style that is typical of Flemish art). Members of the Portinari family are also depicted, kneeling in prayer and accompanied by their respective patron saints. The panel on the left is dedicated to men and includes Tommaso Portinari with his two sons, Antonio and Pigello, presented by St. Thomas (with a large staff) and St. Anthony Abbot (in his typical hermit’s clothes). The panel on the right depicts the female figures: Maria di Francesco Baroncelli, wife of Tommaso, and their daughter, Margherita, behind whom there are St. Mary Magdalene (with her pot of unguents) and St. Margaret (with book and dragon). Mary Magdalene in particular stands out for her sumptuous dress and typical hairstyle of the 15th century, with hair shaved over her forehead and tied in an elaborate bun.
In the background, the representation of two secondary episodes of the holy story: on the left side, the Flight into Egypt; on the right, The Wise Men on the Road to Bethlehem.