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Procrastinator Leonardo da Vinci never even finished Adoration of the Magi.

Our young ADD artist was commissioned by some monks from a now-vanished monastery in San Donato outside of Florence to make this piece. There were some major strings attached to this commission offering Leonardo land from the monastery as form of payment. On top of that, the monks required Leonardo to pay back 150 florins to pay an outstanding legacy on the very land they planned to give him as payment, LOL. Of course, Leonardo never completed the painting as he was known to work hard to receive commissions and then when the time came to create the artwork, he would typically start and never finish the thing. Take that sneaky cheapskate monks!

This work is considered the first Florentine masterpiece by Leonardo even though he said deuces to this work only one year after starting in 1482. He had instead opted to leave Florence for Milan to hand-deliver a silver lyre commissioned by Lorenzo de’ Medici to Ludovico Sforza as a peace gesture and to lobby Sforza to hire him as a military engineer. #hustling

The subject of Adoration of the Magi focuses on the Virgin Mary as the focal point and the Three Magi (wise men who came to visit baby Jesus) are on their knees, building a pyramid and indicating a psychological relationship that captures the precise moment where baby Jesus reveals his divine nature. In the background, a crowd of people gather and it is believed we can find a self-portrait of Leonardo to the far right of the painting. Combining figures of pleading men and armed horsemen, Leonardo turns a biblical subject into a everyday scene of normal human debauchery often described as an allusion to the decline of paganism and the rise of Christianity.

Although void of color, this painting on wood is considered an underpainting, essentially meaning what we see is the first stage of a painting, and even then this underpainting is incomplete. Although frustratingly unfinished, this work demonstrates visual proof of Leonardo’s obsession with light called sfumato. Sfumato comes from the Italian word ‘fumo’ which means smoke as Leonardo blurred the lines between light and dark. This painting measures at 8.07 X 7.97 feet making it his largest unfinished masterpiece.


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Here is what Wikipedia says about Adoration of the Magi (Leonardo)

The Adoration of the Magi is an unfinished early painting by Italian Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci. Leonardo was given the commission by the Augustinian monks of San Donato in Scopeto in Florence in 1481, but he departed for Milan the following year, leaving the painting unfinished. It has been in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence since 1670.


The Virgin Mary and Child are depicted in the foreground and form a triangular shape with the Magi kneeling in adoration. Behind them is a semicircle of accompanying figures, including what may be a self-portrait of the young Leonardo (on the far right). In the background on the left is the ruin of a pagan building, on which workmen can be seen, apparently repairing it. On the right are men on horseback fighting and a sketch of a rocky landscape.

The ruins are a possible reference to the Basilica of Maxentius, which, according to Medieval legend, the Romans claimed would stand until a virgin gave birth. It is supposed to have collapsed on the night of Christ's birth (in fact it was not even built until a later date). The ruins dominate a preparatory perspective drawing by Leonardo, which also includes the fighting horsemen. The palm tree in the center has associations with the Virgin Mary, partly due to the phrase "You are stately as a palm tree" from the Song of Solomon, which is believed to prefigure her. Another aspect of the palm tree can be the usage of the palm tree as a symbol of victory for ancient Rome, whereas in Christianity it is a representation of martyrdom—triumph over death—so in conclusion we can say that the palm in general represents triumph. The other tree in the painting is from the carob family, the seeds from the tree are used as a unit of measurement. They measure valuable stones and jewels. This tree and its seeds are associated with crowns, suggesting Christ as the king of kings or the Virgin as the future queen of heaven, as well as that this is nature's gift to the new born Christ. As with Michelangelo's Doni Tondo, the background is probably supposed to represent the Pagan world supplanted by the Christian world, as inaugurated by the events in the foreground. The artist uses bright colors to illuminate the figures in the foreground of the painting. Jesus and the Virgin Mary are, in fact, painted yellow, the color of light. The trees are painted blue, an unusual color for trees of any kind. On the right side the most credible self-portrait of Leonardo da Vinci as a 30-year-old can be seen, according to several critics. (See Angelo Paratico )

Much of the composition of this painting was influenced by an earlier work of the Northern artist Rogier van der Weyden. The relationship between figures, space and the viewer's standpoint, the high horizon, slightly raised viewpoint, space receding into the far distance, and a central figural group poised before a rock formation in the middle of the landscape are all copied from van der Weyden's Entombment of Christ (1460, Uffizi Gallery, Italy).

Check out the full Wikipedia article about Adoration of the Magi (Leonardo)

Comments (1)

Breanna Larsen

I find this painting to be really interesting because to me it kind of looks finished but just a really old and faded painting, but to learn that it was actually unfinished is really interesting. I looked up the reason to why it was unfinished, and it wasn't a crazy story that I was expecting. The reason why Leonardo could not finish this painting was because he had to leave to go to Florence for Milan. When I do look at this painting, I still appreciate the unfinished work. There is incredible details within the background of the little statues and trees. I also love the details in the horse as well. Very beautiful painting.