National Gallery Experience
The Adoration of the Kings (1500) by Vincenzo Foppa (located in Room 55)
According to the Nation Gallery website: “The Three Kings journeyed to Bethlehem to honour the new-born Jesus. They brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. The stable is set among ruins; this setting is probably intended to suggest that the new Christian order was born out of the decay of the old pagan order. This painting has some similarities with a drawing assigned to Foppa in the Kupferstichkabinett, Berlin; this in turn has some connection with an engraving of 1502 by Giovanni Maria da Brescia.”
Vincenzo Foppa (c. 1430- c. 1515) was a Northern Italian Renaissance painter who was a leading figure in 15th-century Lombard art. The Britannica states that “His earliest dated work is a dramatic painting of the “Three Crosses” (1456). He spent the middle of his life in Pavia in the service of the dukes of Milan, and until the arrival of Leonardo da Vinci he was the most influential painter in the Lombard region. From 1480 he became receptive to the Renaissance style, influenced by Donato Bramante, Andrea Mantegna, and Leonardo da Vinci. This influence appears in the modeling and perspective of his best-known fresco, “The Martyrdom of St. Sebastian” (1485).
The Adoration of the Kings (1573) by Paolo Veronese (located in Room 9)
According to the National Gallery website: “The Three Kings have sought out the Child Jesus in the stable where he was born. They bear gifts (gold, frankincense and myrrh) and have journeyed from the East (Matthew 2: 10-12). The stable at Bethlehem is attached to the ruins of a great classical building with a triumphal arch in the background. Across the foreground the kings and their attendants are presented with grandeur. Angels appear in the sky, along the ray of light by the side of the arch. The dominant diagonal, created by this beam of heavenly light, is countered by the diagonal formed by the adoring figures, with Virgin and Child placed where they intersect. The picture is dated 1573 in Roman numerals on the lowest step (bottom right). It was painted for the church of S. Silvestro in Venice, where it remained until the church was altered in the 19th century. It was not an altarpiece but a large painting for the wall of the nave beside the altar of the confraternity dedicated to Saint Joseph.”
Paolo Veronoese, also known as Paolo Caliari, (1528-1588). An Italian renaissance painted based in Venice. He trained under Antonio Badile but he had his own blend of Central and Northern Italian influences. He then studied with Titian, who was one of the “great trio that dominated Venetian painting of the cinquecento” or 16th century late renaissance. His paintings are grand and full of color but with that it could be considered losing the meaning in the scene. For detailed information about his life here
Now what surprised me the most was that Vincenzo Foppa’s painting, that the subjects were not white. I stopped, and just stared. The baby Jesus is not alabaster white, he has color. That made me investigate more into looking at each subject of the painting, not one person is alabaster white. Coming from the western civilization, Jesus is also white, and normally very white. I thought for a minute that maybe it’s just because the painting is from the 1500s, but if you look closely they paint was not white, it was tan or darker colors. I couldn’t believe it, they painted him ‘colored’. This of course has been a debate for years that if Jesus was born in the middle east, Jerusalem that he would not be alabaster white like a European, that he would at least have olive skin color or even darker. (race of Jesus?) There is only one place that it describes what Jesus looks like and it is his heavenly appearance(which side note- sounds very scary, double sided sword out of his mouth? Eyes that are red like fire? Yeah, don’t think I want that Jesus walking around on Earth), not his day to day while on earth look according to the site above and many others that debate on sites like ask yahoo (heated answer)
So now knowing that there is no actual description of Jesus while on Earth, then maybe being lighter skinned or darker skinned can’t be proven. Since unfortunately there were no camera’s back then for instant taking and instant upload to their facebook. I guess at least today we have proof of what people actually looked like and don’t have to rely on a book filled with text. But while at the National Gallery not knowing any of the above information to the exact detail, I went looking for a similar scene of a baby Jesus, and there really was no better place than the National Gallery with all their Renaissance paintings that are extremely Christian. I searched and it did not take me long to find a painting that had the baby Jesus. What blew my mind away, was that the name of the painting was the EXACT same. WHAT? REALLY? Ok hold on what was the date, (pause) little over 70 years later? Ok apparently the scene of the three wise men brining gifts, there is no other name then, The Adoration of the Kings. It was even better since the baby Jesus was alabaster white and so was everyone else except on wise man. So 73 years later, and he is alabaster white. This made me think, so it wasn’t just age that made the other painting make Jesus look darker. Now did both painters take artistic licenses? Or were they told how the painting needed to be by a patron? Doesn’t really matter. Maybe what matters is what people see in it. I saw that the baby Jesus and everyone was darker skinned in Foppa’s painting while in Veronoese he was alabaster white. The person standing next to me may not see that. What they see is the iconic scene of the gift giving to Christ, the son of God birthed by the Virgin Mary. The messiah that healed the sick, spoke of kindness and love and died for our sins. Both paintings show that, so this scene. This scene that most people in the world, Christian or not, know. They know the story, they know what it means. And that is all the painter might have wanted was for someone to look at his creation, look and see this iconic moment in the Christian faith.
So go to the museum, find these two works and take a look for yourself. While you are there you should see some Rembrandt, Da Vinci, Van Gogh, and many other famous painters’ work of art.
30 Paintings you must see according to the National Gallery, here