Adoration of the Magi: A Low Key Comparison of Paintings

In my history class, we have been learning about art in the Renaissance era lately, and I was especially intrigued by the Adoration of the Magi.  I have learned that the Adoration of the Magi is a famous painting, originally done by Leonardo di Vinci in 1480.

This famous image shows Jesus as a baby being held by his mother while the Three Magi, or sometimes referred to as the Three Kings.  I find this painting very unique, because renaissance art generally focuses on humanism related topics, whereas medieval art was mostly spiritual related pieces, like this one.

Leonardo di Vinci made the first and original painting of the Adoration of the Magi, which later had many more versions made by famous artists.  I find the paintings have the same general theme and get the same point across about Jesus, but every painter uses and adds their own different details to the image.  Leonard di Vinci’s image looks as if it was painted all in dark shades of orange, brown, and yellow with the exception of the trees in the background being a deep green.  I can’t make out a lot of the detail of the people’s faces in the painting, so I think that Leonardo was trying to focus on the content of the different items and people in the picture to show how special the baby Jesus was.  Also, Jesus’ mom is in the very center of the picture, in a different color than everyone else close to her, which to me makes her be the first thing my eye falls on when I look at this particular painting.

Andrea Mantegna’s version of the Adoration of the Magi is much different than Leonardo di Vinci’s.  In Andrea’s, she chooses to include no background detail, and instead, I think that she shows her artistic talent by the detail that she puts into the people’s faces in the painting, and the colorful clothing that they are wearing.  I think that the people’s expressions in this painting are significant to what Andrea is trying to convey.  Jesus the baby just looks like a baby to me, and would by too young to have a meaningful or significant look on his face, but his mother is looking down at him with a look of what I think is love, although it looks as if she is about to fall asleep on him, which would be bad parenting of course.  The man to the far upper right has a look of awe on his face, which would make sense for the title of the image, but the man below him has an expression of contempt on his face.  I do not think that this is necessarily what the man was thinking, but the main point is that he, and the other two men were in a serious mood.

Other versions of the Adoration of the Magi such as Botticelli’s ( have their own unique additions but in all of them, all of the people seem to be very serious and focused on the baby Jesus, who of course is being “adored” by the people.

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  1. brianthemathematician

    Hey Michael, I really liked reading your post! There are some great ideas here. Do you think that color like this still plays a role in art today, or was it more of a renaissance phenomenon?


    • dirtymike1414

      Hey Brian thanks for reading this, and yes of course I do! I think that it is a very good way for artists to express themselves by more than just exactly what they are constructing.

      – Michael

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