The Adoration of the Magi
(Corrado Giaquinto)


In 1727 Giaquinto had moved to Rome to the studio of Sebastiano Conca, whose influence was crucial to his subsequent development. The Adoration of the Magi is so strongly infused with the authority of that painter that one writer characterised it as a ‘redaction of Conca’s contemporaneous religious style’.[1] The profound debt Giaquinto owed (and in the present picture, acquitted) to Conca is underscored in the comparison of the Virgin, Child and Magi to comparable figures in the older artist’s treatments of the theme and to the central figure in his 1714 altarpiece, The Virgin giving the Rosary to St. Dominic and St. Catherine, in San Clemente, Rome.[2] But our painting also reveals vividly Giaquinto’s Neapolitan training and heritage in other ways: the adaptation of certain figural types from Solimena, like the page in the right foreground, and the direct quotation from Domenico Antonio Vaccaro’s Solomon Worshipping Pagan Gods in the Detroit Institute of Arts for the kneeling king at the right.[3]

This potent Neapolitanism suggests an early moment in Giaquinto’s Roman sojourn, around 1730, although the painting has been dated to 1740[4] and 1750.[5] His physical types, for example, are much different at the beginning of his activity in Rome than his figures even a few years later, which become more slender and delicate, enacting their roles in precious and mannered poses and gestures. His handling is also much more straightforward early in his Roman career, and his palette is darker and muted. These differences are especially conspicuous in the comparison, for example, between the Adoration of the Magi and Giaquinto’s highly finished studies in oils from the mid-1740s for the apse frescoes in Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, The Brazen Serpent and Moses drawing water from the Rock, (London, National Gallery). The differences in colouring are especially prominent; the later pictures are executed in a palette of lighter and more transparent greens, blues, violets, reds, pinks and greys.[6]

The Adoration of the Magi, identified by Anthony M. Clark as by Giaquinto in 1962 when it belonged to the distinguished collector of Italian Baroque pictures, Walter P. Chrysler, Jr., should be situated near the beginning of a group of works of the same subject. The eighteenth-century historian, Luigi Lanzi,[7] writing of Giaquinto in his history of painting in Italy, shrewdly observed that the painter ‘was accustomed to repeat himself in the countenances of his figures’. The present painting and related compositions epitomise Giaquinto’s effortless ability to utilise an imaginative repertory of motifs and figures. He seems to have been drawn in particular to the theme of the adoration of the kings, for as early as 1742-43 his biographer, Bernardo de’Dominici, commented on the ‘ben dipinti ornamenti di alcuni personaggi vestiti all’orientale’.[8]

An autograph replica of the present painting of almost identical dimensions is in the Pinacoteca Comunale, Bevagna.[9] (Fig. 1) This painting, which once may have embellished the monastery of the Padri Filippini in Bevagna, bears all the hallmarks of a second version. The handling is almost Neo-classical – smoother, with the forms more defined, and the tone muted. Spinosa (oral communication) confirms that the Bevagna painting is a late work by the artist dating from his last Neapolitan period after his return from Spain, dateable to the 1760s and therefore to between twenty and thirty years after the painting exhibited here.

Giaquinto utilised the three kings again in a reprise of the present painting, compressing them almost exactly as they appear here into a composition painted on a small copper in a private collection in London.[10] (Fig. 2) Moreover, several years later, as if to confirm Lanzi’s observations on his working methods, Giaquinto inserted the figures of the kings, with only minor changes in their poses, physiognomy, and dress, into a presentation of the theme recently acquired by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.[11] (Fig 3). Perhaps the latest composition in this series of Epiphanies is a painting in Vienna datable to the 1750s incorporating the figure of Caspar, the oldest king, kneeling before the infant Christ in the Virgin’s lap, and Balthazar, the Negro in a turban, and the still-life elements of the kings’ gifts an the basket of doves.[12]

(Captions for)

Fig. 1. Adoration, Bevagna, Pinacoteca Communale.

Fig. 2. Adoration, London, Private Collection.

Fig. 3. Adoration, Boston, Museum of Fine Arts.


[1] George Hersey in the catalogue of the 1987-8 exhibition cited above, p. 292.

[2] Gaeta, Palazzo De Vio, Sebastiano Conca (1680-1764), 1981, nos. 3, 4, 6 and 9a.

[3] Hersey, loc. cit., 1987-88, p 314.

[4] Zafran, loc. cit., 1978, p 247.

[5] Hersey, loc. cit. 1987-8, p. 314.

[6] Matthiesen Fine Art Ltd., The Settecento: Italian Rococo and early Neo-classical Paintings 1700-1800, 1987, pp. 150-3, pls. 28-9.

[7] Lanzi, The History of Painting in Italy, trans. Thomas Roscoe, London, 1828, 2, p. 305.

[8] Bernardo de ’Dominici, Vite dei pittori, scultori e architetti Napoletani, Naples, 3, 1745k, p. 722.

[9] Exh. Cat, Bari, Castello Svevo, Giaquinto: Capolavori dalle Corti in Europa, 1993, no 28.

[10] Luigi Dania, ‘Nuova aggiunte a Corrado Giaquinto’ Scritti di storia dell’arte in onore di Federico Zeri, Milan, 1984, 2, pp. 820-1, fig. 811.

[11] Exh cat. Agnew’s 175th Anniversary, London, 1992, n. p. repr. The picture is there dated to the 1720s. The catalogue notes the existence of a related, inferior version published by Mario d’Orsi, Corrado Giaquinto, Rome, 1958, fig 5.

[12] Die Gemäldegalerie des Kunsthistorischen Museums in Wien: Verzeichnis der Gemalde, Vienna, 1991, pl. 225; cf. d’Orsi, op. cit., 1958, fig. 4.

59 ½ x 45 in. 151.2 x 114.3 cm
Oil on canvas

PROVENANCE: Dr William Shapero, Cleveland, Ohio, 1953; Central Picture Galleries, New York; Walter P. Chrysler, Jr., 1953-1987; Sotheby’s, New York, 1 June 1989, lot 83.


LITERATURE: E. Zafran, ‘From the Renaissance to the Grand Tour,’ Apollo 107, 1978, pp. 247-8, fig. 8; Matthiesen Fine Art Ltd, Stair Sainty Matthiesen, cat. Fifty Paintings 1535-1825, 1993, no. 31, pp. 131-4.


EXHIBITED: New York, Finch College Museum of Art, Neapolitan Masters of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century, 1962, no. 43; New York, The IBM Gallery, The Christmas Story in Art, 1965-6, no 16; Norfolk Museum of Arts and Sciences, Italian Renaissance an

Where is It?
Acquired by a Private Collector from The Matthiesen Gallery
Historical Period
Rococo - 1720-1780
Religious: New Testament
Italian - Neapolitan
1999-Collectanea 1700-1800.
Hard back catalogue of the Exhibition held in London and New York, 220 pages fully illustrated with 46 colour plates. £30 or $40 inc. p.& p.

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Price band
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