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The Adoration of the Magi

  • Object:

    Oil painting

  • Place of origin:

    Valencia (probably, painted)

  • Date:

    1505-1513 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    de Osona, Francisco (painter (artist))
    de Osona, Jerónimo (artist)
    de Osona, Rodrigo, born 1440 - died 1518 (artist)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Oil on pine panel; reverse cradled.

  • Museum number:

    484-1865

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval & Renaissance, Room 64, The Wolfson Gallery, case 1, shelf 3, box WN

Francisco de Osona (ca. 1465-1514?) was probably born in Valencia where he was mainly active, although very little is known about his life. Only one document which mentions him along with his father has survived. It describes him as follows: ‘Honorabiles magister Rodericus de Osona, pater, et magister Franciscus de Osona, filius, pictures Valencie’ (25 June 1502- Company, 1994). His brother Jerónimo de Osona (fl.1517) is also documented as a painter and assistant to his father, Rodrigo at Valencia in March 1517. He is descirbed as 'Jerónimo Osona, pintor, filmeu, pusente'. There is no firm evidence for the dates of birth or death of either brother.

This painting was attributed to one of the two sons of the Valencian painter Rodrigo de Osona, as stated by the inscription painted on the stone block under the feet of the Virgin. It depicts the Adoration of the Magi, a scene from the Nativity of Christ narrated in the Gospel of Matthew. The three Magi traditionally offer gifts to the Child and worship him. The kneeling magus may be a portrait of Ferdinand II of Aragon, King of Spain (1452-1516). The inclusion of portraits of rulers in religious works was not rare during the late middle ages and the Renaissance. The plausible likeness of Ferdinand II suggests that it was made for a royal foundation prior to the king's death in 1516.

Physical description

The Holy Family are seated to the right, within an architecutural setting, with the Magi on our left; one kneeling before the Virgin and two standing behind him.

There are extensive incised constructional lines, especially in the architecture. At the bottom right a signature is inscribed on the side of the stone block on which the virgin's feet rest - "LO FIL/DE MES/TRE RODRIGO".

Place of Origin

Valencia (probably, painted)

Date

1505-1513 (painted)

Artist/maker

de Osona, Francisco (painter (artist))
de Osona, Jerónimo (artist)
de Osona, Rodrigo, born 1440 - died 1518 (artist)

Materials and Techniques

Oil on pine panel; reverse cradled.

Marks and inscriptions

LO FIL/DE MES/TRE RODRIGO
The son of Master Rodrigo
This inscription is on the side of the stone block on which the Virgin's feet rest.

Dimensions

Height: 165 cm unframed, Height: 217 cm framed, Width: 150 cm unframed, Width: 193 cm framed, Depth: 11 cm framed

Object history note

Purchased, 1865
V&A memorandum dated August 26th, 1865 (Dossier 3417A):

‘Whilst on the point of leaving for Spain, I have discovered a very interesting Early Spanish “Church” picture on sale at a dealer’s in London (Mr. Watson, Duke St. Oxford St.). It is a panel picture, representing the Adoration of the Magi, executed circa 1500-10 – in most perfect preservation replete with interesting costume and Gothic or “Plateresc” [sic] ornamental detail, and is quite within the scope of this Museum. It is moreover valuable in an iconographic and historical point of view, the principal figure (one of the kings) being a fine contemporary portrait of the celebrated King Ferdinand the Catholic. The picture is also signed by the artist in one corner, in large Gothic letters (the usual practice of the more eminent of the early Spanish painters) “Lo fil de Mestre Rodrigo” (the son of Master Rodrigo) and I believe it thus gives us evidence of an unknown and not unimportant early Spanish master. I take it the picture is of the Castillian school and the painter a follower of Fernando Gallegos of Salamanca. Messrs. Watson ask £100 for the picture but they would lend it on approval till next year if requested to do so. I recommend that this course be taken as there are not sufficient funds at present to purchase it.
J.C. ROBINSON

P.S. Messrs. Watson knows nothing about the picture and it would be well not to enlighten them about it. So the label should merely bear Messrs. Watson’s name as lending without any description or explanation.’

Historical significance:
This painting has long been recognised as the authentic work and most likely the only known work of the Valencian painter Francisco de Osona. Passavant refers indeed to what appears to have been 484-1865 as follows: ‘To my knowledge, the only painting by this master [the son of Master Rodrigo] is an Adoration of the Magi with figures somewhat over half life size, in the possession of an Italian chaplain in Valencia. It is signed: LO FIL DE MESTRE RODRIGO.’ This signature suggests that the painting is entirely by one of Rodrigo de Osona's sones, either Francisco or Jerónimo.
The painting was probably executed ca. 1505 for the Convent ‘Gratia Dei’ (o de la Zaidía) in Valencia (Company, 1994) but it has also been suggested that it was made for the Cartuja de Portaceli in Valencia, however with no evidence of this.

484-1865 was most likely originally part of a larger altarpiece, the missing upper corners suggesting it had a curved top. It shows the Adoration of the Magi with the Holy Family (The Virgin, Child and Joseph) on the right and the Magi on the left, one of them kneeling in prayer before the Virgin and Child.

The Adoration of the Magi traditionally refers to an episode from the Nativity of Jesus narrated in the Gospel of Matthew (2:1-11): three Magi, identified from the 13th century as Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar and represented as kings (Jacobus of Voragine, Golden Legend), having found Jesus by following a star, lay before him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, and worship him. According to Matthew, these presents are symbolic of Christ as King, God and Man (myrrh being associated with death). In the Western church calendar, this event is commemorated as the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6).

The ruined setting had become usual since the mid-fifteenth century for representations of the Nativity and the Adoration, and was symbolic of the decline of Judaism following the birth of Christ. The ruins refer specifically to the palace of the Saviour’s lineal ancestor King David in Bethlehem, the ‘city of David’ (Luke, 2:11). However the elaborate and complex ruined palace may equally allude to human vanity intended to be wiped away by the passing of time and death.

From the fourteenth century, it was customary to differentiate the Magi between their ages, representing one as youthful, one as middle aged, and one as elderly. From the fifteenth century, especially in German and the Netherlands, one was frequently portrayed as a Moor. Thus, they implicitly acquired the persona of the three Ages of Man and the three Continents of Asia, Europe and Africa. (G. Schiller, Iconography of Christian Art, vol. 1, London 1971, pp.94-114).

Robinson identified the kneeling Magus as a portrait of Ferdinand II ‘the Catholic’, King of Aragon (1452-1516. His long dark hair, cleft double-chin, and pronounced ‘five o’clock shadow’ are all characteristic of the more realistic portraits of Ferdinand. These include the anonymous bust-length oil portrait at Schloss Ambras, and its derivatives, the polychrome wood kneeling figure by Felipe Bigamy in the Capilla Reale in Granada Cathedral, and the miniature of the king kneeling in prayer by Pedro d’Aponte on fol. 2v in his missal and breviary, now in the Vatican Library (ms. Chig. C.VII 205). The Magus also bears a marked resemblance to the kneeling figure of an unidentified donor at the right of The Adoration of the Magi in the Museum of Fine Arts, San Francisco, attributed to Rodrigo and Francisco de Osona.

In the Prado and San Francisco compositions of the Adoration of the Magi, the kneeling Magus is depicted (as was common) kissing the Child’s foot, and is recognisably older than his companions, one of whom is represented as a Moor. In 484-1865, all the Magi are white, the one kneeling holds his hands together in prayer and the age difference between him and the central Magus is less marked. As was noted earlier, the central Magus bears a marked physical resemblance to the more closely shaven donor in San Francisco Adoration of the Magi. Both wear a beretta with a medal of a helmeted head ‘all’antica’, and share a common resemblance to portraits of Fedinand II, who was also often represented wearing such headgear.

The inclusion of actual portraits in religious paintings was not unprecedented. Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenburg (1490-1545) commissioned a number of religious works including representations of himself in the guise of St. Jerome, St. Martin and St. Erasmus (Thomas Schauerte (ed.), Der Kardinal Albrecht von Brandenburg; Renaissancefürst und Mäzen, Halle 2006, vol. 1, pp.188-97.) Likenesses of Ferdinand II appear as an onlooker in two small panels by Juan de Flandres of The Feeding of the Five Thousand and The Entry into Jerusalem, dated ca. 1496-1504, from the dispersed Altarpiece of Isabella the Catholic, and now in the Palacio Real, Madrid (E. Pardo Canalis 1963, pp.42-3, 72-4). Moreover, a portrait of the Emperor Maximilian I (whose son Philip married Ferdinand’s daughter Joanna) appears as the middle-aged Magus with a likeness of his deceased father Frederick III as the elderly Magus in an Antwerp triptych of The Adoration of the Magi of 1515-20 by the Master of Frankfurt in the Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart (inv. no. L27; Austellung Maximilian I, Tyroler Landesmusem, Innsbruck 1969, p.150). For these reasons, it seems possible to sustain J.C. Robinson’s identification of the central Magus in 484-1865 as ‘a fine contemporary portrait of the celebrated King Ferdinand the Catholic’, and to propose that the same sitter is represented in the San Francisco Adoration of the Magi with a donor.

A pair of panels of The Adoration of the Shepherds and The Adoration of the Magi in the Prado and one of The Adoration of the Magi in the Museum of Fine Arts, San Francisco, have been attributed to the joint workshop of Rodrigo and Francisco de Osona, which is documented in existence in 1502. All include background architecture with sharply receding perspective derived from Dürer's woodcuts of The Adoration of the Shepherds, The Adoration of the Magi and The Holy Family in Egypt which are generally dated around 1502-3, and were published in book form in 1511. The panels attributed to Rodrigo and Francisco de Osona have been dated ca.1495-1505, but their common use of this graphic source indicates that they cannot be much earlier than 1505, and are possibly later than 1511.
The figure of the Virgin in 484-1865 is reminiscent of that in the San Francisco panel, while the attitude of the two standing Magi and their open-handed gestures recall the Prado Adoration of the Magi. Also, the prominent dagger handle projecting from the girdle of the youngest Magus in 484-1865 reappears in the San Francisco painting. However, in comparison with these panels, the figures in 484-1865 are more corporeal but markedly stiffer. Its background architecture is also spatially assertive, including the motif of a broken arch, common to Dürer's Holy Family in Egypt, but is otherwise quite different in character. Its dominant element, an exterior staircase extending over an archway, derives ultimately from Leonardo da Vinci’s unfinished Adoration of the Magi, commissioned in 1481 in the Uffizi, Florence. This motif re-appears, for example, in Andrea del Sarto’s painting of Pharaoh’s Dreams, part of the dispersed Joseph cycle from the Palazzo Borgherini, now in the Palazzo Pitti, Florence, which has been dated 1515-16. (J. Shearman, Andrea del Sarto, Oxford 1965, vol.1, pp.230-4; vol. 2, plate 48b). 484-1865 may post-date the Prado and San Franciso paintings, and have been made during the decade 1505-16. Its staircase motif reappears in a panel of The Nativity, attributed to a follower of the Osona, in a private collection (Company, vol. 1, p.188, vol. 2, fig.117).

Distinctly classicising elements in 484-1865, equally foreign to the Prado and San Francisco panels and Dürer’s woodcuts, are the semi-circular exedra on an arcade visible through the arch, the multi-tiered circular structure whose edge is visible at the upper left, and the sculptural decoration at the upper right. From top, and left to right, these depict:

1. An oblong panel sub-divided into two scenes in relief. At the left, a pair of nude male figures attempting to subdue a rearing horse; a motif probably derived from the ‘horse-taming’ figures of the Dioscuri from the Quirinale in Rome. At the right a standing figure on a multi-wheeled chariot with a flaming torchere at each of its four corners.

2. A spandrel with a relief of a figure in billowing drapery; a motif probably derived from the figures of Victory in the spandrels of the Arch of Titus in Rome.

3. A door-frame decorated with classicising pilasters, and at top right a nude male figure battling a monster with a serpentine neck and tail; probably a corruption of a group of Hercules slaying the Hydra.

4. A spandrel with a relief of a nude male figure blowing a trumpet (?)

(P. Pray Bober and R. Rubinstein, Renaissance artists & antique sculpture: a handbook of sources, London: 1987, pp.158-61, 211-12). These decorations have no evident iconographic links with the subject-matter of The Adoration of the Magi, but resemble the simulated sculpture in paintings by Andrea Mantegna, which include citations from the Dioscuri (San Zeno Altarpiece, Verona, 1457-9) and the Victory from the Arch of Titus (St. Sebastian, Vienna, variously dated between the 1450s and 1470s). Analogous motifs (including putti, a pan-like figure, and muscular male nudes) also appear in the painted panels from the St. Denis altarpiece for Valencia Cathedral, now in the Museu Catedralici-Diocesà, for which Rodrigo and Francisco de Osona received payment in 1502. The association of this decoration with a compositional device derived from Leonardo da Vinci indicates a knowledge of Italian art, perhaps communicated to Francisco de Osona by the itinerant painter Paolo de San Leocadio, documented in Valencia and, to the south, in Gandia in 1490-1513.

Historical context note

While altarpieces were never required by canon law, they were intended to meet the prescribed function of identifying the saint to which an altar was dedicated. The subject of the ‘wise men from the east’ (Matthew, 2, 1-12), known as the Adoration of the Magi, portrayed since Early Christian times, was popularised following the transfer of their relics to Cologne in 1164, and was a frequent subject in altarpieces of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

Since its re-conquest from the Moors in 1238, Valencia formed part of the kingdom of Aragon, which was linked with Castile from 1469 as a result of the marriage of the ‘Catholic Kings’ Ferdinand and Isabella. It was one of the largest and most cosmopolitan cities in Spain, and a principal port of the Western Mediterranean. During the fifteenth century Valencia enjoyed a commercial boom which came to an end in 1519-23 with the ‘Revolt of the Germanías’. Since the late fourteenth century, the city had been a major centre of cultural exchange between the Iberian Peninsula, Italy and Northern Europe. The Florentine painter Gherardo Starnina was active there from 1395-1401 and the German artist Marzal de Sas (to whom has been attributed the St. George Altarpiece a the V&A) is documented in the city between 1396-1410. Alfonso V the Magnanimous (1416-1458), King of Aragon and Naples, owned paintings by Jan van Eyck and Rogier van der Weyden, and sent the Valencian painter Lluis Dalmau to Flanders in 1431. A style of ultimately Netherlandish derivation was promoted by the Flemish immigrant Louis Alimbrot (active 1439-63), as well as Spanish artists familiar with Netherlandish painting, such as Pere Reixach (active 1452-72) and the itinerant Bartolomé Bermejo (active 1468-95). From the 1470s, the Neapolitan painter Francesco Pagano (active 1471-89) and the Emilian Paolo de San Leocadio (1447-ca.1520), were active in Valencia. The surviving oeuvre of Rodrigo de Osona (active 1463-1518) continues this sub-Netherlandish hybrid style, latterly enlivened by motifs or even entire compositions appropriated from prints by the German artists Martin Schongauer and Albrecht Dürer.

484-1865 probably formed part of a larger ensemble, with additional images of saints. These would more probably have occupied fixed panels than the hinged shutters usual in Flemish altarpieces, which were imported in some quantity to Spain. The missing upper corners suggest that the panel originally had a curved top. In Valencia, altarpieces were commissioned by merchants, guilds and confraternities, as well as members of the nobility and the church. The original location of 484-1865 is unknown. Its scale suggests a location in a chapel, rather than on the high altar of a major church. The plausible identification of the central of the three kings as a portrait of Ferdinand II may indicate that it was commissioned for a royal foundation prior to the latter’s death in 1516.

Descriptive line

Oil on pine, 'The Adoration of the Magi' by Francisco de Osona or Jerónimo de Osona, ca. 1505, Valencia

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

C.M. Kauffmann, Catalogue of Foreign Paintings, I. Before 1800. London: 1973, pp. 240-241, cat. no. 297
J.D. Passavant, Die Christliche Kunst in Spanien, Leipzig 1853, p.85
E. Pardo Canalis, Iconografia de Ferdinando el Católico, Zaragoza 1963, pp. 72-4, 76-8, 81, 84, 89-90, 92
X. Company, La Pintura dels Osona: Una Cruilla d'Hispanismes, Flamenquismes i Italianismes, Lleida 1991, vol. 1, pp.40-1, 52-4, 64-5, 140-50, vol. 2, figs.61-8
Reyes y Mecenas : Los Reyes Católicos – Maximiliano I y los Inigòs de la Casa de Austria en Espana, exhibition catalogue, Museo de Santa Cruz, Toledo, Electa 1992, p.419, no. 154
Circa 1492 : Art in the Age of Exploration, exhibition catalogue, National Gallery of Art, Washington, New Haven & London 1991, p.55, fig. 1
J. M. Plotzek (ed.), Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana: Liturie und Andacht im Mittelalter, Erzbischöfliches Diözesanmuseum, Cologne-Stuttgart: 1992, p.388
J. F. Riano, Catalogue of the Art Collection of Spanish production in the South Kensington Museum, 1872, p.70.
Anon., in The Burlington Magazine, xi, 1907, p.111f., repr.
L. Tramoyeres Blasco, Cultura Espanola, iii, pt.I, 1908, p.150ff., repr.
A. L. Mayer, Geschichte der Spanischen Malerie, 2nd ed., 1922, p.113 f., fig.86.
J. Camón Aznar, La pintura española del siglo XVI, Summa Artis : Historia General del Arte, vol.24, Madrid 1980, pp.34-6, fig. 21.
X. Company and L. Tolosa, ‘La identidad del pintor Osona el Joven’, in Archivo Español de Arte, vol. 63, no.252, 1990, pp. 666-7.
X. Company, La Pintura dels Osona: Una Cruilla d’Hispanismes, Flamenquismes i Italianismes, Lleida 1991, vol. 1, pp.140-47, vol. 2, fig.61.
A. Ávila, Imágenes y símbolos en la arquitectura pintada española (1470-1560), Barcelona: 1993, pp. 84-5, 173.
X. Company (ed.), El Mundo de los Osona, ca. 1460 – ca. 1540, exhibition catalogue, Museu Sant Pius V, València 1994, pp.78-82, fig. 68.
E. Tormo in Archivo Espanol, viii, 1932, p.133 f., pl.xv; ix, 1933, p.192.
C. R. Post, A history of Spanish painting, vi, pt i, 1935, pp.198-204, fig.76.
N.MacLaren, The National Gallery, Spanish School, London: 1952, vol. I, p.58 f., vol. II, p.54.
J. A. Gaya Nuno, La pintura espanola fuera de Espana, 1958, p.261, no.2081.
José López AzorÍn and Vicente Samper Embiz., ‘Sobre pintores en el Reino de Valencia hacia la primera mitad del siglo XVI: aportación documental’ in Lorenzo Hernandez Guardiola (ed.) De Pintura Valenciana (1400-1600) Estudios y documentación, Alicante, 2006, pp.133-148 (134-136)

Production Note

Formerly attributed (see Kauffmann) to Rodrigo de Osona the younger. However, more recent research (see Compnay & Tolosa, 1990; Samper, 2006) indicates that Rodrigo had two sons, both painters, named Francisco and Jerónimo. The panel is signed 'Son of Master Rodrigo' and as such, may have been painted by either son.

Materials

Oil paint; Pine

Techniques

Oil painting

Categories

Christianity; Paintings; Religion

Production Type

Unique

Collection

Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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