The Adoration of the Magi

Nosadella (Giovanni Francesco Bezzi) Italian

Not on view

This drawing was bought at the Pembroke sale in 1917 as by Lorenzo Sabbatini, although it was already listed in the Pembroke album with the correct attribution to Nosadella (see here "inscriptions" and "provenance"), an attribution that is also confirmed by the style and technique with washes of the study. The figure of Saint Matthew is seated conspicuously in the foreground and is aided in his writing by an attendant angel. Matthew's presence emphasizes the fact that the story of the visit of the Magi to the Christ Child is told only in the Gospel that bears his name. The drawing could therefore be a design for a representation of this subject painted in fresco on the walls of the choir of the church of Santa Maria Maggiore, Bologna. The altarpiece, representing the Circumcision, still survives; it is said to have been begun by Nosadella and finished by Prospero Fontana. The Bolognese art historian Carlo Cesare Malvasia reports that on the lateral walls of the choir were frescoed representations of the Nativity and the Adoration of the Magi (Malvasia, 1686, p. 42, the altarpiece fig. 53/5): these lateral frescoes had disappeared under whitewash by the eighteenth century, but the lateral spaces could have easily accommodated a vertical composition such as that studied in our drawing (as Catherine Johnston has reported). Furthermore, the scale of the figures and the rhythm of the composition would have harmonized with the Circumcision altarpiece. Christine Baltay has pointed out that the figure of the old Magus standing at the right is quoted almost verbatim in a painting of the Presentation in the Temple that was sold more recently at Christie's in London (April 24, 1981, no. 95, repr.). In the painting, the Magus is transformed into a temple attendant.

The Adoration of the Magi, Nosadella (Giovanni Francesco Bezzi) (Italian, Bologna (?) ca. 1500–1571 Bologna), Pen and brown ink, brush and brown wash, over traces of black chalk, with some traces of white gouache highlights (oxidized); the kneeling male figure at center reworked by the artist with pen and darker brown ink; a strip of paper added at the bottom and the design of the feet of the figure at lower left completed in brush and brown ink by an early hand, not that of the artist

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