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Acquired on the art market in 1928, the present painting combines all the
characteristics typical of Cavallino’s early period: almost alone among the
Neapolitan painters of his generation, he endowed his compositions with
tender, poetic features. Elegant postures as well as sensitive action and reaction dominate the artistically arranged scene. This prevailing mood is rendered mysterious with the distinctive use of chiaroscuro: Cavallino places one of the three kings at the centre of the painting, thus providing a strong, brightly lit foreground figure (repoussoir) to create greater depth. The imposingly sweeping movement of his precious cloak is set off against powerful shadows and finds its formal counterpart in the gold chain in the background, while other large areas of the painting are punctuated by back lighting. Naturalistic elements, such as the fur hat of the man at the left edge of the painting and the sensitive depiction of the surface of the royal garment, are evidence of Cavallino’s training under the Spaniard José de Ribera (1591–1652), who worked in Naples. The complexity of the omposition is created by the crossing of compositional lines and the
spatial refinement, which are actually older, Mannerist principles for which the
painter took his inspiration from the graphic works of Bartholomäus Spranger
and Hendrick Goltzius. © Cäcilia Bischoff, Masterpieces of the Picture Gallery, Vienna 2010

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