Adoration of the Shepherds
by Ludavico Mazzolino
Italian, (b. about 1480 - d.1528) Active Ferrare and Bologna
Oil on panel (1524)
SN 46 Bequest of John Ringling 1936.
By Pat Hillerman, February 28, 2000
Description (level 1 visitor)
This painting is of the Adoration of the Shepherds at the birth of Jesus. Notice the
setting is outdoors. In the center front of the painting, closest to us, is the Holy
Family. Joseph motions to Mary and she looks lovingly, with her hands clasped, at the baby
Jesus. The figures have a golden halo of light around their heads, as does the Baby. Their
clothes are brightly colored: Mary is wearing a red gown with a blue cloak and yellow
collar. Joseph wears a red robe with blue collar and an orange cloak. The color carries
our eyes to these figures first. The Baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph are the most important
figures in the picture and they are in the front of the painting. Behind the figures is a
curved wall which fades into lacy foliage in the back. Above the Holy Family and the wall
are four baby angels holding a banner. Two of the angels point beyond the banner toward
heaven. Across the center of the painting are four shepherds, two looking up toward
heaven. The shepherd on the left is carrying a lamb on his shoulders and appears to stoop
under the weight. On the right. another shepherd stands behind the Holy Family, and two
kneel on the right side of the painting.
Additional information for the Level 2 visitor:
1. A strong diagonal carries our eyes from the shepherds at the right up to Mary, then to
Joseph and on to the shepherd on the left above the animals. From there our eyes move
across and slightly up to the figures in the center of the painting. These shepherds look
upward and our eye follows their gaze up to the baby angels (or putti, as they were
called) who carry a banner which proclaims in Latin "Glory to God in the Highest and
Peace on Earth."
2. Color also captures our attention and, like the diagonal, the red garments carry our
eyes upward: Mary, Joseph, the two shepherds above, and the tiny red wings of one putti.
Another putti has green wings.
3. The church used art during this period to teach. Few people could read and they used
pictures to learn new stories and remind them of old ones. This painting may have been
commissioned by a church or, since it is relatively small, may have been commissioned by
an individual donor for a private chapel.
4. The source of light is on the left, lighting the face of Mary and the Baby, but also
the faces of the shepherds, as they too face the light. Notice how the white collars draw
our eye to their faces as the light reflects off the fabric.
5.. The figures are placed at the very front of the painting, with a rather steep
perspective rising behind them. On the right, perspective of distance is achieved by green
foliage which fades into a misty blue distance.
Additional information for the Level 3 visitor:
1. Symbolism was important in paintings of this period, and the 16th Century viewer would
have recognized the four putti as angelic spirits: messengers between heaven and earth.
The pillars or columns may have been recognized as symbols of spiritual strength, and in
this painting also carry our eye upward. The shepherd carrying the lamb suggests the Good
Shepherd, guardian of the flocks. (A lamb is commonly one of the gifts of the shepherds at
Christ's nativity and a symbol of Christ's future sacrifice)
2. The baby lays on a white cloth which rests on Mary's cloak. The fabrics seem to be
placed on a roll of straw; however, the "straw" almost appears to be the very
long hair of the Virgin Mary.
3. This painting is from the original collection and was purchased by Mr. Ringling at an
art auction of the Holferd Collection in 1927.