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.