Object Image

The Adoration of the Kings

The Virgin sits in front of a dilapidated stable with the naked Christ Child on her knee. Three men offer golden gifts - this is the Adoration of the Kings, a biblical episode imagined as a contemporary event. It's a chilly winter day: Mary's dress has fur-lined sleeves and Joseph has a thick-belted robe.

This is one of Pieter Bruegel the Elder's few religious paintings; the upright format and rich colouration suggest it might have been designed as an altarpiece. But its uneasy atmosphere is at odds with a devotional work. The kings are richly dressed but dishevelled, the soldiers menacing, the spectators bewildered or enraged. The crowding, the elongated proportions of the main figures and th...

Oil on oak
112.1 x 83.9cm
Image and text © The National Gallery, London, 2024

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