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A joyful scene of the adoration of the Child (with saints: John the Baptist, Francis of Assisi, Joseph and Catherine of Alexandria) is a hidden allusion to Christ’s future fate. The Child’s deep sleep may be associated with the Redeemer’s martyr death through ancient references — Sleep (Hypnos) in the Greek mythology is the brother of Death (Thanatos).

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A joyful scene of the adoration of the Child (with saints: John the Baptist, Francis of Assisi, Joseph and Catherine of Alexandria) is a hidden allusion to Christ’s future fate. The Child’s deep sleep may be associated with the Redeemer’s martyr death through ancient references — Sleep (Hypnos) in the Greek mythology is the brother of Death (Thanatos).
The child’s arrangement on Mary’s knees resembles the arrangement of the dead body of Christ in Pietà representations, and Mary’s white veil on which the Child is lying may be an allusion to a shroud in which Christ was entombed. The motif of the sleeping Child, which appeared in Italian art at the turn of the 16th century, was particularly popular in Venice. This is one of Lotto’s earliest paintings.

Elaborated by Dorota Dec (The National Museum in Kraków), © all rights reserved

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Who is adoring the Child Jesus?

The painting Adoration of the Child by Lorenzo Lotto presents a scene popular in the Renaissance, with the Mother of God and the Child on his knees and Saint John the Baptist, portrayed as a child, in the company of saints. This work — characterized by a deep passion symbolism — also has a political context, provided by the characters gathered on the painting.

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The painting Adoration of the Child by Lorenzo Lotto presents a scene popular in the Renaissance, with the Mother of God and the Child on his knees and Saint John the Baptist, portrayed as a child, in the company of saints. This work — characterized by a deep passion symbolism — also has a political context, provided by the characters gathered on the painting.
In the foreground, in a triangular composition, Mary appears with the Child. Baby Jesus sleeps on his mother’s lap, and his body slides and falls on them, almost like a dead figure. The scene, in this manner, refers to the presentation of Pieta. St. John the Baptist — visible on the left — also fits in with the composition. His meaningful gesture and mimicry, as well as the sad and compassionate look directed straight towards Maria’s face, is a harbinger of the Christ’s future passion.
In the left part of the painting, in the background, there is a figure of St. Francis with exposed wounds. The saint is steeped in prayer, as evidenced by the gesture of his hands and gently parted lips, quietly saying words. This character complements the passive meaning of the scene, because it evokes the saint’s participation in the passion by his stigmata. At the same time, the appearance of Saint Francis may be a sign of a special, private devotion to this saint by, for example, by the patron of the work.
The most enigmatic figure of all seems to be an old man, largely hidden, in the third plan. Only his head — covered with a cloak and his fingertips — is visible, suggesting a gesture of prayer. His appearance refers to the representation of a holy hermit, according to the iconography of Saint Jerome or Saint Anthony Abbot, with whom this figure was identified. There is also a strong hypothesis that identifies the old man with Saint Joseph. Hidden and distanced, Joseph emphasizes his role in the work of salvation, which was quiet but important. The separation of the three characters allows us to decode the Holy Family hidden in the image. At the same time, the contrast between those gathered — Baby Jesus, a young Maria, and the old man, Joseph — may be associated with an allegorical representation of the three stages of human life.
All the figures discussed above, gathered and facing each other, form a composition that can be enclosed in the figure of a circle. Undoubtedly, St. Catherine of Alexandria is noteworthy;  although she is in the third plan, she seems to have been distinguished. Her figure observes the scene slightly and insecurely, leaning out from behind Mary’s back. The saint was portrayed with attributes of her passion, which accounts for the wheel and the martyr’s palm. She is dressed in a rich, Renaissance dress, decorated with flowers, and is portrayed wearing a gold necklace. The dress of Saint Catherine is contemporary to the author of the painting and such contemporaneity proves this figure’s connection to the real world. The saint’s face has individual features (e.g. a double chin), which indicates the portrait features of the image. This is especially evident in comparison with Mary’s idealized physiognomy.
The saint is identified as Catherine Cornano (1454–1510), the last queen of Cyprus. Her sad fate adds a great deal of meaning to the work — mainly on the maternal level — because she had lost her child in its infancy and — just like Mary depicted on the painting — was aware of the future death of her son. 
When comparing the image of St. Catherine from Lotto’s painting with other portraits of Catherine Cornaro — for example from the works of Bellini or Titian — differences may be noticed, resulting from a tendency to idealization. In all of them, however, the same features characteristic for her have been preserved. Unlike other works, the physiognomic features of the queen of Cyprus in Adoration of the Child are not “beautified”, which may indicate a presentation of her true appearance, and, in consequence, a possible acquaintanceship between the painter and Catherine Cornaro.

Elaborated by Paulina Kluz (Editorial team of Małopolskas Virtual Museums),
Licencja Creative Commons

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Poland License.

Bibliography:
Józef Grabski, The Portrait of Caterina Cornaro in Lorenzo Lotto’s Adoration of the Christ Child in the National Museum in Cracow, „Artibus et Historiae”, 31 (2010), nr 61, pp. 191-208.

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Painting “Adoration of the Child” by Lorenzo Lotto

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Obraz „Adoracja Dzieciątka” Lorenza Lotto [audiodeskrypcja] Tells: Fundacja na Rzecz Rozwoju Audiodeskrypcji KATARYNKA
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Obraz „Adoracja Dzieciątka” Lorenza Lotto Tells: Piotr Krasny
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