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Brief Identification Edit

Giotto di Bondone, a renowned early Italian Renaissance artist, crafted this unique depiction of the Life of Christ around 1320 CE. Giotto's creation was commissioned for a Franciscan church; however, the exact church is highly speculated among art historians. The Adoration of the Magi contributed to a "series of seven scenes" depicting the Life of Christ; the "foreground" and the "left background ... combine the narratives of the gospels of Matthew (2:1-12) and Luke (2:8-13)." The artwork signified the central role of Christianity in Western Europe as well as the state's subjection to the church in the fourteenth century.

The Adoration of the Magi is currently housed at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
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The Adoration of the Magi

Technical Evaluation Edit

Artistic experts and innovators, like Giotto, "were assisted by pupils and workshop members in their lengthy and complex preparation." The Adoration of the Magi is a "tempera on wood, gold ground;" Italian artists, like Giotto, commonly used "the native poplar, a widely available wood" and gold for their panel paintings. The time consuming technique of tempera painting requires daily dedication, focus, and supreme skill; Artists, like Giotto, crushed their own pigments and saturated them in a mixture of "egg yolk and water" [Tempera 2008, 668]. The aforementioned materials were widely obtainable, but gold existed as a rarer, more expensive commodity. Gold is historically associated with religion and wealth thus validates its presence in religious paintings; moreover, regarding tempera paintings, gold provides a "brilliant tonality characteristic" and "complements the gleam and sparkle" of the images portrayed [Tempera 2008, 669]. The gold acquired by these founding Renaissance artists, notably Giotto, assuredly arrived through maritime commerce from the ports of either Alexandria or Tunisia; The North African kingdoms dominated the commercial exchange of gold from the seventh century through the late fourteenth century ["The Trans-Saharan Gold Trade"].

This painting on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art was purchased "from the Fuller Maitland Collection at [Stansted] house" [Burroughs 1911, 216].

Local Historical Context Edit

Giotto's Adoration of the Magi originated out of Florence prefacing the Renaissance movement. Giotto, an originator, propelled the interest and devout study of the Classics, thus serving as a model and motivator for rising Florentine artists, architects, humanists, and leaders. Florence became fruitful with men of knowledge, expertise, and talent: Giovanni Villani, Leonardo du Bruni [Rubinstein 1942, 224-225]. Florence experienced tremendous population and economic growth throughout the thirteenth century: "The extraordinary increase of the town population was not only a source of economic well being, but also created many difficulties; one of which was the decrease of the farming population in the Contado, which had its effect on food supplies; another the danger of unemployment as a result of the increase in the working class population of town"[Rubinstein 1942, 222-223]. The urbanization of Florence instigated the rise of a new social class with fluid "social mobility": the mercantile middle-class [Padgett 2010, 359]. The rising merchant class and bankers upset societal norms: Florentine "social strata [were] defined by [the] political age of families" [Padgett 2010, 365]. These capitalists were able to marry into solidified political lineages, and thus progress socially and prosper economically. Ensuing upon the economic growth of Florence, the prosperity of the political elites provided for the expense upon public projects and particular commissions. As mentioned earlier, the exact church that commissioned Giotto for the panel series, including the Adoration of the Magi, is heavily disputed and thus truly unknown. However, Historians and Art Historians have defined the purpose and symbolism of Giotto's revolutionary painting. The Adoration of the Magi, as with many of Giotto's works, imparts "appropriate behavior and emotional expressiveness" [Meiss 1936, 456]. "For the sacred figures inhibit a nearer, more 'natural' world, and behave in a more natural way. They tend to feel and act like a person in the 'real' world, like the spectator" [Meiss 1936, 459]. This work is meant to captivate the viewer and connect the spectator with the "sacred figures" in the painting, in part by the "natural" experience being witnessed and also the gentleness and invitation of the image [Meiss 1936, 459].

World-Historical Significance Edit

This phenomenal piece of religious art exemplifies the significance of Christianity in the western hemisphere; The Adoration of the Magi employs a unique aesthetic indicating the subjection of the state to Christianity: "The action of the kneeling king, who lifts the Christ child from the manger" [Fahy 1971, 431]. Another exemplary aesthetic and unique quality is "the combination of the Annunciation to the Shepherds with the Adoration of the Magi" [Fahy 1971, 431]. The time Giotto and his workshop members spent upon this profound piece is representative of the progression of Christianity as a universal religion as well as its prominence throughout Europe. The Adoration of the Magi is almost entirely original; the closest comparison is Giotto's earlier fresco "Nativity [located] in the Arena Chapel" [Burroughs 1911, 216]. Apart from the aforementioned comparison, one other earlier work of art might serve as a modeling foundation for Giotto's Adoration of the Magi: Nicola Pisano's Nativity Panel located in the Pisa Baptistery Pulpit. The motif established is the reclining position of the Virgin Mary along with the Annunciation. Notably in Pisano's sculpture, therein lies the adoration of the shepherd not the magi. Moreover, the depictions of order and emotion are drastically different between Pisano's sculpture and Giotto's painting. Nonetheless, both works illuminate the growth of and reverence to Christianity in Italy and, ultimately, Europe. Giotto's Adoration of the Magi is revolutionary through its unique aesthetic, and serves as a prominent art piece for Christianity.

Suggested Bibliography Edit

Burroughs, Bryson. "The Adoration of the Kings by a Pupil of Giotto." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 6, no. 11 (1911): 216-15. 

Fahy, Everett. "Florentine Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum: An Exhibition and a Catalogue." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 29, no. 10 (1971): 431-43. Meiss, Millard. "The Madonna of Humility." The Art Bulletin 18, no. 4 (1936): 435-64.Padgett, John F. "Open Elite? Social Mobility, Marriage, and Family in Florence, 1282–1494." Renaissance Quarterly63, no. 2 (2010): 357-411. 

Rubinstein, Nicolai. "The Beginnings of Political Thought in Florence. A Study in Mediaeval Historiography." Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 5 (1942): 198-227.

"Tempera." Grove Encyclopedia Of Materials & Techniques In Art (October 2008): 668-671. Art & Architecture Source, EBSCOhost (accessed November 12, 2016).

"Becoming 'The World' 1000-1300 CE," modern-world-history.weebly.com/uploads/2/6/5/7/26578904/tignor-worlds_together-(10)-making_of_the_world.pdf

Burr, David. "Giovanni Villani: Florentine Chronicle," sourcebooks.fordham.edu/source/villani.html

Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas. “The Trans-Saharan Gold Trade (Seventh–Fourteenth Centuries).” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/gold/hd_gold.htm (October 2000)

Gascoigne, Bamber. "History of Florence" HistoryWorld.from 2001, ongoing. www.historyworld.net/wrldhis/plaintexthistories/asp?historyid=aa69

"Giotto, Arena Chapel," employees.oneonta.edu/farberas/arth/arth213/arenachapel.html

Guisepi, Robert A. "The Origins of Christianity," history-world.org/origins_of_Christianity.htm

Krén, Emil and Daniel Marx. "Annunciation, Birth of Jesus and Adoration of the Shepherds," www.wga.hu/html_m/p/pisano/nicola/1pisa_1.html

"Leonardo Bruni," www.libraryillinois.edu/rbx/exhibitions/Florentine%20Printing/IV.htm

"Major Trade Routes of Afroeurasia c1300 CE," worldhistoryforusall.sdsu.edu/images/bigeras/era5/Major_Trade_Routes_of_Afroeurasia_c1300_CE.jpg

Nativity: fresco by Giotto, Photo, from Enclycopedia Brittanica Online, accessed November 14, 2016, https://www.brittanica.com/biography/Giotto-di-Bondone/images-videos/The-Nativity-fresco-by-Giotto-305-06-depicting-the-birth/94389

Richards, John C. "Giotto di Bondone." The Oxford Companion to Western Art. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press, accessed November 14, 2016, http://www.oxfordartonline.com.proxy-remote.galib.uga.edu/subscriber/article/opr/t118/e1049 .

The Annenburg Foundation. "Bridging World History," www.learner.org/courses/worldhistory/support/reading_7_1.pdf

"The History Attached to Stansted Hall," www.arthurfindlaycollege.org/history/history5.html

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Adoration of the Magi," www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/436504