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Adoration of the Shepherds

Artist: Andrea Mantegna
Created: 1451-53
Dimensions (cm): 55.6 x 40.0
Format: Tempera on canvas tranferred from wood
Location: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA

Adoration of the Shepherds

Andrea Mantegna, famed Italian painter whose illustrious career was already established by the age of eighteen, created ‘Adoration of the Shepherds’ between 1451 and 1453. This painting is widely attributed to Mantegna’s youth, most likely completed during his early twenties.
The open-spaced setting places the praying Virgin Mary at the center of the canvas with the infant Jesus at her feet. Saint Joseph sits to the left, resting his sleeping head upon a small tree that bears fruit on one branch, a recognized symbol signifying the renewal of nature.

Since Joseph is frequently seen slumbering in numerous art works, many probably assume his role to be the mere protector of Mary and Jesus; however, that is not Andrea Mantegna’s estimation. Although the shepherds appear to be focused in prayer on Jesus, one notes, upon closer look, that they are looking directly at Joseph, which is an interpretation of Mantegna’s personal admiration for the saint, who was a carpenter and craftsman. Perhaps many artists consider Joseph to have been somewhat of an artist like themselves.

The intricate details in the facial expressions of the two shepherds approaching the newborn baby give evidence that the painting was possibly commissioned by Borso d’Este, the Duke of Ferrara, whose court humanists appreciated meticulous depiction. The fine points in the rocks and cliffs amidst a broad landscape are also significant testimony to the talent young Mantegna held at so young an age.

About the Artist

At eleven years old, Andrea Mantegna became the apprentice of renowned painter Francesco Squarcione, in Padua, Italy. Mantegna, a favored student of Squarcione, taught him not only Latin but also how to study fragments of Roman sculpture. By the time he was seventeen, Mantegna believed that Squarcione was profiting from his work without paying him the rights and so he left his instructor on bad terms.

The young artist went on to achieve a profitable and successful career in painting and engraving. In time, Mantegna’s work became an important influence on other famed artists such as Leonardo da Vinci and Albrecht Durer, who are deemed to have taken from Mantegna his particular style in the use of decoration.

In 1927, ‘Adoration of the Shepherds’ was transferred from panel to canvas and suffered a certain amount of damage. It is currently located at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA.


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