At the beginning of the Fifteenth Century, Gentile da Fabriano4 painted an Adoration of the Magi,5 in which the faithful representation of contemporary scenes is again found. The Virgin, completely enveloped in a large blue cloak, is seated in front of the stable, with her head piously inclined towards her Son whom she is regarding with tender gaze. St. Joseph is at her side and behind her are two young women who are holding and admiring the gifts offered to the Saviour. The infant Jesus has laid his hand on the head of the oldest of the Magi, who, prostrated, kisses his feet with devotion. The two other Kings are much younger than the first one. They are presenting their offerings to the Son of God, and are about to lay their crowns before him. Then follows the retinue of these Magi; and in this throng, where may be counted at least seventy figures on foot and on horseback, of all ranks, of all ages, and of all sizes, it is easy to recognize a trace of those popular festivals instituted in the preceding century. Despite some slight Oriental disguises, one may easily recognize the bearing, the general features, and the costumes of the Italy of the first years of the Fifteenth Century. Gentile was also pleased to add to the "superb chargers" mentioned by Lattuda, all kinds of animals, especially the apes that the Milanese loved to include in their pompous processions. Finally, in the background of this picture he has painted the embattled walls of a Guelph city with two massive gates; the one through which the Magi have entered, the other through which they will take their departure. Is there anything here, either in the foreground or the background that suggests Jerusalem? Do you not notice rather a resemblance to the fortifications of Milan, with the Porta Romana and the Porta San-Lorenzo?

Adoration of the Magi. Fabriano.

Adoration of the Magi.

After having painted the frescoes of the Cathedral of Orvieto, Gentile lived for a long time in the north of Italy, particularly in Venice. It is very likely that while there, closer to the Orient and more especially nearer to Milan, he painted his Adoration of the Magi. We may then certainly consider this as a faithful portrayal of one of those public ceremonials, which without doubt he had witnessed, and in which he had most likely participated. Only, ignoring the passions and violence of the period, he left everywhere in this painting the imprint of his own gentle and tender nature. We know that Michael Angelo remarked of Gentile that his name was in perfect harmony with the tone of his works. None of them can more thoroughly convince us of the justice of this observation than this picture. From the Virgin herself to the mosthumble of the servants of the Magi, and indeed even to the animals, that beautiful soul which had for its servant a talent replete with delicacy and suavity may be traced.6

Les Vierges de Raphaël (Paris, 1869).


4 One of the founders of the Roman School.

5 This painting is in the gallery of the Accademia delle Belle Arti, Florence. At its base on one side one may read: OPVS: GENTILIS, DE: FABRIANO; and on the other side: MCCCC.X.X.III: MENSIS: MAII.

6 In a predella below this picture may be seen The Adoration of the Shepherds and The Flight into Egypt. Gentile da Fabriano also painted an Adoration of the Magi at San-Domenico, Perugia. This second picture is of less value than the one at the Accademia delle Belle Arti in Florence.