Despite its large size a strong sense of intimacy is conveyed by this painting. The everyday, such as the dog’s casual intrusion on the left, is placed alongside the adoration of the serene holy child. The scene is thus shown as a tangible event happening to real peasant people. It conforms to the Counter-Reformation Church’s view in the 17th century that religious art should combine a devotional image with believable humanity.


  • Title: The Adoration of the Shepherds
  • Creator: Mattia Preti
  • Date Created: 1660/1699
  • tag / style: Christ; Holy Family; shepherds; sheep; mule; ass; adoration; angels; dove; straw; hay; Mary; Joseph; radiant; baby; peasant; realism; religious; humanity; Adoration of the Shepherds; dog; Counter-Reformation; pipes; music; banner; crowded; kneeling; manger; stable; Neapolitan
  • Physical Dimensions: w2980 x h2274 cm (Without frame)
  • Artist biographical information: Mattia Preti was born in the small town of Taverna in the region of Calabria in the far south of Italy. Preti had a long working life and there are more than 500 canvases and frescoes known to be by him. He trained in Rome in the 1630s, where he studied with his brother Gregorio at the Accademia di San Luca. In the 1630s and 1640s in Rome he achieved his first successes. However, he is traditionally associated with the Neapolitan school. He gained many commissions in Naples after the Great Plague of 1656 wiped out nearly a whole generation of artists. During his seven years in Naples he developed a style that was to influence future generations of painters such as Francesco Solimena. Preti’s particular style of painting was greatly influenced by the work of Caravaggio (1578–1635), whose pictures are noted for their realistic detail and the dramatic use of light and shade. In 1661 Preti went to the island of Malta where he remained for the rest of his life. The Knights of Malta elevated him to the rank of Knight of Grace. In Malta he received commissions for most of the Island’s churches and his paintings of the Life of John The Baptist in the church of St John, Valletta are considered to be his masterpiece. While he was engaged in this commission, which was to last for five years, he was promoted to the rank of Knight of Justice. Although he lived in Malta he continued to send paintings to patrons in Naples, he also received commissions from all over Europe, especially from Spain and Sicily. He also sent ten major altarpieces from Malta to his home town of Taverna.
  • Additional artwork information: The immediate impact of the picture is achieved by the crowded composition of life-size figures. The animation of the two figures in the foreground is particularly striking. There is a strong sense that Preti has recreated the exact moment of their hasty arrival. The shepherd on the right crouches down, joining his hands in a gesture of prayer and devotion. The shepherd on the left, surely the last to arrive, falls forward, kneeling and removing his cap, as the Virgin Mary covers up the just-born Jesus. Other shepherds lean forward for a better view and two more shepherds provide a musical welcome for the Christ child. Scarcely visible in the background, four figures press forward bearing gifts. Across the night sky an angel flies, trailing an inscribed banner. Preti has created an intensity of dramatic feeling through the skilful use of light, colour and movement.
  • Type: Oil on canvas
  • Rights: Presented by Liverpool Royal Institution in 1948

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