Article: The Adoration of the Magi – a Masterpiece

Kirsi Eskelinen, Director, Sinebrychoff Art Museum, Finnish National Gallery

 

First published in Art’s Memory – Layers of Conservation. Edited by Reetta Kuojärvi-Närhi, Maija Santala, Ari Tanhuanpää, Anne-Mari Forss. Sinebrychoffin taidemuseon julkaisuja (Sinebrychoff Art Museum Publications). Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Sinebrychoff Art Museum, 2005

Eliel Aspelin-Haapkylä had bought this painting of the Adoration of the Magi in Venice in 1898. [1] According to Osvald Sirén it would have been the jewel of Aspelin’s collection had it not been in such poor condition. Sirén, however, had deeper insight when he attributed this ‘beautiful ruin’ to Giovanni Boccati in 1921. [2] The abundant ornamentality and fluent composition of the Late Gothic were, according to Sirén, characteristic of the work owned by Aspelin, which he associated in terms of style with Gentile da Fabriano and particularly with a painting of the same title by him in Florence. The figures of the Virgin and children, the nature of the background scenery and the decorative details of the painting in turn pointed to Boccati. Sirén compared this painting to an altarpiece predella painted by Boccati in 1447 (Pala del Pergolato, Perugia), with its theme of the Passion and especially the scene of Christ bearing His cross. In the latter work, the marine landscape and the town wall with its towers resembled the Aspelin painting. [3] Sirén dates the work in Aspelin’s collection to before the Perugia predella of 1447. [4]

[1] Eliel Aspelin-Haapkylä observed the connections of the painting with the works of Gentile da Fabriano in his notes, where he wrote “Tuscan-Umbrian in the manner of Gentile da Fabriano”. Literature Archives of the Finnish Literature Society, folder A469, Helsinki. I am indebted to Hanne Selkokari for this information.

[2] Sirén, Osvald, 1921. Tidiga Italienska Målningar i Finska Samlingar. Stenmans konstrevy no 4–5, 1921, 44.

[3] Sirén 1921, 43–44.

[4] Sirén 1921, 45. Sirén leaves any closer dating open by noting: ”… and have cause to assume that he was already active several years previously.”

Featured image: Giovanni Boccati, The Adoration of the Magi, (1440–1445), oil on panel, 80cm x 53,2cm, Aspelin-Haapkylä Collection, Sinebrychoff Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

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