The Adoration of the Kings

Jan Gossaert1510-15

The National Gallery, London

The National Gallery, London

This large picture was painted as the altarpiece of the Lady Chapel of the Abbey of St Adrian's, Geraardsbergen, near Brussels.  It was evidently commissioned by a local nobleman, Daniel van Boechout, Lord of Boerlare, who was to be buried there.  Behind the kneeling king, Caspar, stands Melchior with a retinue of attendants. Balthazar is on the left, and Gossaert has signed his name on the border of his headdress and again on the collar worn by his attendant.

The dove, symbol of the Holy Spirit, descends to the infant Christ from the brilliant star in the sky, and angels approach from a great distance through a series of arches, giving the scene a spectacular sense of space and depth.

Gossaert used the bright colour and highly detailed oil painting technique of his 15th-century Netherlandish predecessors to sophisticated effect. The figures wear sumptuous costumes made of rich fabrics. The metalwork gifts presented by the kings are elaborate and reflect contemporary designs.

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  • Title: The Adoration of the Kings
  • Creator: Jan Gossaert (Jean Gossart)
  • Date Created: 1510-15
  • Physical Dimensions: 179.8 × 163.2 cm
  • Type: Painting
  • Medium: Oil on oak
  • School: Netherlandish
  • Inventory number: NG2790
  • Artist Biography: Jan Gossaert, sometimes called Mabuse after his birthplace Maubeuge, is more correctly named as Jean Gossart, following his own signature and his origins in French-speaking Hainault. He may have begun his career in Antwerp, but by 1508 he was almost certainly in the service of Philip of Burgundy and evidently accompanied him to Rome where, in 1509, he drew some of the antiquities. On his return he apparently continued to work for Philip in Brussels and at Souburg in Zeeland. In 1517 Philip became bishop of Utrecht and Gossart followed him there. After Philip’s death in 1524 he worked for Adolf of Burgundy, Lord of Veere, but also had many other noble patrons. For Philip, Gossart made in 1516, a painting of Neptune and Amphitrite now in Berlin, featuring full-length life-size nudes in a classically inspired architectural setting. He also painted large altarpieces and a number of notable portraits, of which the Gallery has a fine and varied group. In some of his works Gossart affected a self-conscious desire to evoke antiquity but it does not appear that his stay in Rome had a very profound effect on his style. The Gallery's Adoration of the Kings, a huge work in which splendid detail is marshalled into a coherent and compelling whole, includes very limited Italianate references and was most probably painted after his return from Rome.
  • Acquisition Credit: Bought with a special grant and contributions from The Art Fund, Lord Glenconner, Lord Iveagh and Alfred de Rothschild, 1911


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