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Iconographical Analysis: di Nardo, 'Adoration of the Magi'
The painting "Adoration of the Magi" by di Nardo portrays the three Magi approaching the baby Jesus and the Virgin Mary. However, there is much more to it than just this familiar scene from Judeo-Christian lore. When approaching this painting in order to analyze it iconographically, it is necessary to first look at all aspects of the form. If this aspect is ignored, it provides for an incomplete analysis of the painting. Once this is looked at, the iconography of the painting becomes much clearer, and it is easier to compare the painting to the actual biblical text from which it was derived (Gospel of St. Matthew 2:1 - 2:12).
When approaching the painting the first thing I noticed was the odd perspective. There are several vanishing points. Also, all of the figures seem to be placed on one plane. Because of this, the two figures that represent Jesus and Mary seem to be hovering weirdly above the ground. This, I believe, draws the viewer's attention to these two figures, since they are the main focus of the painting.
Due to the influence of my culture, I recognized the figures as Jesus and Mary immediately. However, despite this, there are a few indicators as to who the people represented in the painting are. When viewing the painting, it is obvious that the figures of mother and child are the main point because the gazes of all of the people in the represented center on the child, including the mother's. Also, the weird hovering effect also directs the viewer's attention to these two figures. Both Mary and Jesus have halos, but this is not necessarily a distinguishing factor seeing as how there are also four other figures in the painting that have halos. However, the halo that surrounds the head of the baby Jesus has a slightly different pattern than those that the other figures possess. This lets you know that for whatever reason, this child is set apart from all other figures in the painting. So, even if the viewer is of another culture or religion and doesn't see the significance of the female in the picture being clothed in blue and red, or the significance of the "blessing" position in which the baby is holding his hand, he can see that for some reason, this child is being distinguished from all other people in the painting.
Another aspect of the form that draws your attention to the Virgin and Jesus is the triangular set up of these two figures along with Joseph and another Magus. The triangle that is formed has Mary and Jesus at the peak, yet again, drawing the viewer's attention to these two figures and reinforcing the fact that they are of some significance.
When comparing the painting to the text in the Bible that describes the same meeting of the Magi with the baby Jesus and Mary, there are several differences. There are certain things that I noticed that not only go contrary to the painting, but to popular culture's idea of this story.
First, in the Bible, the Magi are referred to as, chief priests and teachers of the law. They were not "kings" as they are often referred to in Christian culture. In fact, in di Nardo's depiction, all of the Magi are wearing crowns, showing this misunderstanding. Another thing that is assumed by di Nardo in his painting, as well as by popular culture is that there were three Magi. There is nothing mentioned in Matthew 2:1 - 2:12 that makes reference to there being exactly three Magi. What I noticed that might have lead to this misconception, however, is that the Magi brought gifts of "gold, incense and myrrh." This is the only thing that I saw that could have lead to the belief that there were three Magi - one Magus for each gift. There are also ex
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