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Adoration of the Magi

Pietro Vanucci

(vers 1448 - 1523) | 803.34

Date : Circa 1497 | Medium : Oil on wood

This wood panel, alongside two others equally conserved at the Museum of Rouen (the Baptism and the Resurrection of Christ) come from the predella (lower part) of an altarpiece that Pietro Perugino was commissioned to produce in 1495 for the church of San Pietro in Perugia. The principal subject was the Ascension (Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lyon). Placed beneath the section portraying the glorious Ascension of Christ to heaven, these panels offered a summary of his life on earth, from birth to resurrection.

Vasari wrote in 1568: ‘This predella contains so many difficult points, so well handled, that it is the best of Pietro’s oil paintings in Perugia.’ Indeed, the artist, at the apogee of his art, takes great care in separating the clearly-delineated slender figures into successive layers of perspective, with their lucid colours, against the pure light of a garden transformed into an infinite landscape by an elevated vanishing point.

The young Raphael, his pupil at the time, was in good hands, and these panels were still being attributed to him when Delacroix admired them during his visit in 1840. ‘The small Raphaels, which are perhaps Perugino’s work, are more previous to my mind than anything similar in the museum of Paris.’