Putting The 'High' in High Art: 'The Adoration of the Magi' by Fra Angelico and Fra Filippo Lippi

City Paper

It’s as though the artists went about the painting thinking, “How can we force people to stare at this beyond what the average human attention span can allow?” Like a mandala, the figures in the Early Italian Renaissance tondo spiral around the center of the painting (which happens to be a donkey and not the son of God) as I become lost in the deep, endless tunnels of detail that burst from the flatness of the painting. After standing inches away from the painting for several minutes, wildly shifting my focus from the Holy Family to the animals to the throngs of figures draped in candy-colored cloth to the fractured planes of the mountains and stone ruins to the graphically intricate grass, I heard a teacher tell her students the painting is titled ‘The Adoration of the Maj-ee.’ I sketched the painting to manage my irrational irritation, and ended up with a bizarre series of scribbles that make zero spatial sense—any sense, really—except for the small dog in the foreground, on which I devoted the most focus. At the time I saw the dog as a sheared sheep, but somehow still rendered it like a dog, so when we later ran into Jerry Saltz at the Union Station Bojangles’ (I swear!) and he pointed out that the dog was the only part of my drawing that made any sense, I sank, thinking that I had inaccurately represented the sheep, on top of everything else. In this state, it’s impossible to absorb as much of the image as I’d like (which is all of it and more) so I could only take away a confused vision of the dog-sheep.

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