The Adoration of the Kings (Monteforte Altarpiece)

size(cm): 37x60
Sale price£165 GBP


The most brilliant work of van der Goes's early period is the Monforte Altarpiece, which owes its name to the town where it was located, in a school belonging to a group of Spanish Jesuits, before being later transferred to the museum of Berlin. It is a large triptych, of which only the central panel, a long horizontal rectangle, has been preserved to this day. A group of floating angels have been severed from the top of the panel and the two wings have disappeared. The subject of the surviving painting is the adoration of the Magi.

The Magi and their followers meet the Virgin, the Holy Child and Joseph in the midst of the ruins of a palace. A group of villagers observe this extraordinary scene through a hole in the wall. The figures, both actors and witnesses, are all shown on the same scale, whether humble or magnificent. They are not reticent or excited, but react to the event in various ways, surprised or self-conscious. In the background we can see a few women, some little houses and a river next to which the Kings' horses wait. In the foreground, symbolic flowers, the lily and columbine, and a ceramic pot are rendered with great care. A tiny squirrel runs along one of the beams above the opening through which the villagers watch the scene. Van der Goes has given free rein to his imagination

The figures in the picture are true to life to an extent that goes far beyond anything achieved in Dutch art up to that time. Few times has the theme of Adoration been recreated with such emotion. The interpretation of the expensive fabrics and objects, the richness of the colors and the immediacy of the event give this part of the mystery of salvation a closeness to the present that its contemporary viewers must have perceived as a sign of the living meaning of the events.

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