If You Like Botticelli's Magi, You'll Love Nadin Ospina's Natividad

It turns out there's not much separating the sublime from the ridiculous

By Google Arts & Culture

The Adoration of the Magi (c. 1478/1482) by Sandro BotticelliNational Gallery of Art, Washington DC

Sandro Botticelli, born in Renaissance city of Florence, Italy, in 1445 was one amongst the greatest artists of the early Renaissance.

While he is known for his mysterious mythological paintings, including the Birth of Venus and La Primavera, he also made a number of portraits and religious paintings.

This is his Adoration of the Magi, the moment where the three wise men arrive at the nativity of Jesus, bringing with them the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

The Magi were particularly significant Biblical figures in the city of Florence. One of the largest religious organisations in the city was dedicated to them, and to re-enacting their journey to Bethlehem in a city-wide festival every five years.

Botticelli's scene avoids such pompous displays of wealth and status, emphasising instead the faith of those first witnesses - their eyes are drawn directly to the Christ child.

Natividad (1999) by Nadin OspinaMuseum of Contemporary Art Bogotá

Meanwhile, Colombian artist Nadín Ospina turns the sublime to the ridiculous.

Besides the Holy Family, he populates his 1999 painting of the Nativity with toy-like cartoon characters drawn from popular culture: Goofy, Mickey Mouse, the Simpsons, Mazinger, and Goku.

It mocks the place of both cartoons and religion in contemporary society. As the Nativity heralded the coming of the messiah, this absurd montage of religious imagery and popular culture suggests the arrival of a new faithless, materialistic era.

But Opsina's image is also a reminder of how this religious story of the Nativity has been reimagined and retold over the centuries… His painting is no more fantasy than Botticelli's own image…

The Adoration of the Magi (c. 1478/1482) by Sandro BotticelliNational Gallery of Art, Washington DC

The humble stable of the Bible story has become the ruins of a classical temple, set amongst the lush green, hilly landscape of Botticelli's own native Tuscany.

The hats, cloaks, and shoes of his worshippers are just as anachronistic as Ospina's inclusion of Father Christmas and the Dragonball Z villain, Frieza.

Natividad (1999) by Nadin OspinaMuseum of Contemporary Art Bogotá

Botticelli's image is filled with the fashions and tastes of his own time, and his densely packed, highly detailed image reflects the expectations and desires of his patrons. Similarly, Ospina's flat, naively painted scene suggests the facile nature of contemporary art.

It's true that Ospina's image is an unusual contribution to the history of Christian art, but in a strange way it's appropriate for its time. After all, who's to say which of these paintings is more truthful?

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