The Adoration of the Kings (Monforte Altar)

Hugo van der Goesaround 1470

Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
Berlin, Germany

Hugo van der Goes is assumed to have been born in Ghent. In 1467 he was accepted by the city's painters’ guild as a free master and, by 1473, he was dean of the guild. At the height of his fame, in 1477, he retreated to the monastery of Roodendaele near Brussels. Despite the severe mental illness that clouded his later years he continued to work as a painter. Van der Goes's artistic achievement is all the more remarkable because his entire output is concentrated within a period of only fifteen years. He produced works of art that are among the most remarkable achievements of late 15th-century Netherlandish art in their expressive and monumental qualities. 'The Adoration of the Kings' was the central panel to a large triptych. Old copies show that the wings depicted the birth and circumcision of Christ. The work's altered state can be seen from the loss of the wings, and the fact that the central panel has been cut down: it used to have a raised rectangular section in the centre. The altar's appellation derives from its stay in the monastery of Monforte de Lemos in northern Spain, where it was presumably taken in the 16th century. The patron and the altar's original purpose are unknown. 'The Adoration of the Kings' is one of Hugo van der Goes's earliest large works. Mary is sitting in front of a palace-like building with the child on her lap. Joseph is kneeling beside her, greeting the kings from the East. These representatives of the three realms of the world have gathered reverently with their gifts to pay tribute to the new ruler of the world. The figures in the picture are true to life to an extent that goes far beyond anything achieved in Netherlandish art until that time. The theme of the Adoration has seldom been so movingly recreated. The rendering of the costly fabrics and objects, the richness of the colours and the immediacy of the event give this part of the mystery of salvation a closeness to the present that its contemporary viewers must have perceived as a sign of the living significance of the events portrayed.


  • Title: The Adoration of the Kings (Monforte Altar)
  • Creator: Hugo van der Goes
  • Date Created: around 1470
  • Physical Dimensions: w242.0 x h147.0 cm
  • Type: Painting
  • External Link: Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
  • Medium: Oil on oak wood
  • Style: Netherlandish
  • Copyright Text: Text: © http://www.prestel.com, Prestel Verlag / Rainald Grosshans // Photo: © http://www.bpk-images.de, b p k - Photo Agency / Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin / Jörg P. Anders
  • Collection: Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
  • Artist information: Hugo van der Goes ranks as one of the most important early Netherlandish painters. He was involved in the decoration of the town of Bruges, where the celebrations of the marriage between Charles the Bold and Margaret of York took place. In 1473 or 1474 he became the dean of the Ghent painter's guild. After that he entered the Roode Klooster ('Red Monastery') near Brussels, but did not abandon his painting. The altarpiece Portinari Triptych in Florence, Italy, was executed by him and is one of his most famous works.
  • Artist Place of Death: Oudergem, Belgium
  • Artist Place of Birth: Ghent, Belgium
  • Artist Gender: male
  • Artist Dates: 1440/1482

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