Adoration of the Magi, 1499
Lorenzo Costa the Elder - Oil on panel - cm 75 x 181.3
The panel originally constituted the predella of Francesco Francia’s altarpiece dedicated to the Nativity of Christ and Saints, commissioned for the church of Santa Maria della Misericordia in Bologna by Antonio Galeazzo Bentivoglio, the son of the lord of Bologna, on his return from the Holy Land, which explains the chivalrous tone of the scene and the presence of members of the Bentivoglio family in the Magi’s retinue. The altarpiece and predella arrived in Brera in 1809, while the finial with the Risen Christ between Our Lady of the Annunciation and the Angel, also by Costa, remained in its original location; the altarpiece was sent back to Bologna in 1816.
The work is characterized by a paratactic composition, in which the action is broken up into individual episodes of the story. These animate the procession of the Magi while the main event is pushed almost into the background, overwhelmed by the abundance of descriptive detail and the decorative exuberance of the drapery . It is possible to discern precise echoes of the Florentine painting of the late 15th century.