[Domenico Ghirlandaio was a 15th Renaissance painter. Among the students who passed through his workshop in Florence was the more famous Michelangelo. However, Ghirlandaio himself enjoyed immense popularity in his own day. Among his best known works is this Adoration of the Magi, which he painted for the Ospedale degli Innocenti, an orphanage in Florence.]
The artist has painted a portrait of himself in the left foreground of this masterpiece. His eyes focus on us, inviting us into the scene. We are not mere spectators. Christ’s birth touches each of us.
On the hill in the background, a church rises above the Colosseum and Trajan's Column in the valley below. Jesus comes to replace all human forms of government that pass away with the kingdom of God that lasts forever.
Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli
Mary, seated at the very center of the painting, offers to us her son, the very Son of God Incarnate. Mary’s “yes” to the angel allowed the Son of God to enter our world through her. We also are called to say “yes” to God’s will in our lives and thus allow Christ to come into our world today.
The three Magi offer their adoration. The youngest holds a goblet. Another kneels in awe. The eldest offers a kiss to the newborn King. According to tradition, the Magi represent the three stages of life: youth, maturity and old age. Whether young or old, we find true happiness in Christ alone.
Behind Mary and Jesus stand a priest and a layman. They represent the two groups responsible for building the orphanage for which this painting was commissioned. They are still working on the unfinished brick wall of the stable. The works of charity continually press upon us. We are to provide for Christ present among us in the poor, the marginalized and the stranger.
In the foreground on the right, John the Beloved Disciple is presenting a child to Jesus. As children depend upon their parents, both the richly dressed individuals and the poorly clad shepherds off in the distance depend on God for all they have. Each of us comes as a humble beggar before the King.
In the foreground on the left, St. John the Baptist, holding a staff in the form of a cross, looks out at us and points to Christ. Jesus who is born in a manger will die on the Cross. No life is without suffering. None without death. But, the Prince of Peace comes to conquer death itself. By sharing in Jesus’ suffering and death each day, we truly accept him as our Savior and come to share in the eternal life of the Risen Lord.
“In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.” 1 Jn 4:9.