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Pietro da Rimini, The Nativity and other Episodes from the Childhood of Christ, ca. 1330. Tempera and gold on panel, 17.2 x 19.7 cm. Colección Thyssen-Bornemisza, on deposit at the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya (MNAC) © Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

MADRID.- The homage paid to the Infant Christ and the Virgin by angels, the Magi, shepherds and donors is the theme of a new edition in the exhibition series, which opened to the public in mid-December, coinciding with the Christmas holidays. Entitled Adorations in the Collection of the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, it brings together thirteen works by artists including Luca di Tommè, Jacques Daret, Fra Bartolomeo and Marc Chagall, who depicted both the events described in the Gospels and private devotional images of the Virgin and Child. This exhibition will be on display until 14 February in the Museum’s Balcony-Gallery on the first floor, with free, direct access from the Main Hall. 

Only the Gospels of Matthew and Luke describe episodes such as the Birth of Christ and the Adoration of the Shepherds and the Magi, for which reason artists had to turn to other more complete accounts when devising their works, such as the Apocryphal Gospels, the Revelations of Saint Bridget of Sweden, Jacobo de Voragine’s Golden Legend and the texts of religious plays. 

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Luca di Tommè, The Adoration of the Magi, ca. 1360-1365. Tempera and gold on panel, 41 x 42 cm. Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid. © Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

 The works selected for the present exhibition, all of them from the Thyssen Collections, are notable for the presence of angels, which play a different role in each of the episodes depicted, while the influence of the above-mentioned texts is also evident in details such as the Virgin’s position, the clothing, and the manner of presenting the midwives, among other elements. 

Accordingly, in Jacques Daret’s Nativity, the position of the kneeling Virgin, the light emanating from the Child and the candle held by Saint Joseph derive from the vision of the Swedish saint. The believing midwife and the disbelieving midwife, whose presence underlines the supernatural aspect of Christ’s birth and his mother’s virginity, are taken from the apocryphal gospels, and the clothing, especially that of Salome, is inspired by the costumes worn by actors in autos sacramentales. 

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Jacques Daret, The Nativity, ca. 1434-35. Oil on panel. 59.5 x 53 cm, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid© Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

Angels – messengers of God – are present in nearly all the works featured in the exhibition. In some of them, they worship the newborn with their prayers, singing hymns or playing musical instruments, and sometimes they announce his arrival to the shepherds or guide the Magi, as in the works by Bruyn the Elder, Piero di Cosimo or Sébastien de Bourdon. 

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Bartholomäus Bruyn the Elder, The Nativity, ca. 1520. Oil on panel. 62.5 x 55.5 cm. Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid © Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

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Bartholomaus Bruyn the Elder, The Nativity, c. 1520 (detail). Oil on board, 62.5 x 55.5 cm. Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid. © Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

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Attributed to Piero di Cosimo, Madonna and Child with Angels, 1500-1510. Oil and tempera on panel. 78 cm. Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid © Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

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Sèbastien Bourdon, The Holy Family with Saint Elisabeth and the Infant Saint John the Baptist, ca. 1653-57. Oil on canvas. 39 x 50 cm. Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid © Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

In certain compositions they bear symbolic objects that recall the Passion the Messiah will later face. For example, Giovanni de Paolo includes the loincloth of the Crucifixion, which an angel holds out to the Child, and the oil painting by the Master of the Saint Ursula Legend features a carnation for the same purpose. 

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Giovanni di Paolo, The Virgin of Humility, ca. 1440. Tempera and gold on panel. 32.5 x 22.5 cm. Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid © Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid 

Praise and veneration for the Virgin and Child and Mary’s role as man’s intercessor before God are recognisable themes in the compositions of Palma Vecchio and Jan van Scorel. Both works feature donors, portraits of powerful people, who approach the main group with pious gestures and attitudes.

A famille verte beaker vase, Kangxi period (1662-1722)

Palma Vecchio, The Virgin and Child with Saints and a Donor, ca.1518-1520. Oil on panel transferred to canvas. 105 x 136 cm. Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid © Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

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Jan van Scorel, Madonna of the Daffodils with Christ Child and Donors, 1535. Oil on board, 55.5 x 76.2 cm. Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid. © Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid