Hugo van der Goes, The Adoration of the Shepherds

Oil on wood
Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy

The tiny baby, naked and seemingly lost in this huge triptych, is set against symbols of what is to come of him. One such symbol is the tall, solid church in the background. Another is the gray column on the left in the central panel, which suggests a church interior but also the pillar on which the adult Jesus will be scourged.

The central panel draws on the Brigittine type in which the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph kneel to adore the naked child lying on the ground. As is common by this time, angels are added to the scene; and in this case the artist also adds the worshipping shepherds and the two side panels with the donors and their patron saints who have come to adore the child.

In the foreground of the side panels, the Portinari family joins in worshipping the child. On the left, Tommasso Portinari kneels with his sons Antonio and Pigello below the portraits of Tommasso's namesake St. Thomas (identified by the spear) and Antonio's namesake St. Anthony Abbot (identified by the prayer beads and tau-topped staff). On the right, Tommasso's wife Maria Maddalena Baroncelli kneels with her daughter Margherita in front of their namesakes, St. Margaret and St. Mary Magdalene. Margaret's attribute is the small cross she holds in her hand; Mary Magdalene's is the ointment jar.

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Read more about Saints Anthony Abbot, Thomas, Margaret, and Mary Magdalene.

Photographed at the Uffizi by Richard Stracke, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.