NCMA Recommends: The Nativity and Procession of the Magi

Sandro Botticelli (Alessandro di Mariano Filipepi), The Nativity and the Procession of the Magi, 1480s, tempera on panel, Diam. 49 1/2 in., Gift of the Samuel H. Kress Foundation

Four and a half years after opening, the North Carolina Museum of Art received a large collection of art from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation. The donation comprised 61 Italian paintings and sculptures and 10 northern European paintings. This circular painting (called a tondo) by the Florentine painter Botticelli is a highlight. The Kress gift made the NCMA one of the leading repositories of Italian art in the US.

In Renaissance Florence the tondo became one of the most popular formats for Christian devotional paintings and relief sculptures. The majority of surviving tondi feature the Virgin and Child, frequently in the company of other holy figures. During the last two decades of the 15th century and early 16th century, master tondo maker Sandro Botticelli and his workshop produced scores of tondo paintings to fulfill a demand among wealthy Florentine families for devotional works for the home. Contemporaneous documents indicate that they were typically located in private domestic chambers (camere) or adjacent antechambers and sometimes placed high on the wall rather than at eye level. Positioned thus, they would have appealed to the Renaissance imaginary as fictive windows into the heavenly realm.

The present example, depicting the Nativity of Christ and the Procession of the Magi (the latter scene appearing in the distant landscape background), belongs to Botticelli’s early maturity. Its carved giltwood frame decorated with garlands of leaves and fruits is a 20th-century interpretation of a Renaissance tondo frame. –Lyle Humphrey, Associate Curator of European Art and Collections History

New Free Exhibition

While West Building is closed for a major reinstallation, we invite you to visit the newly opened Becoming the NCMA: 10 Decades of Collecting, 1924—2022 in East Building. The exhibition features more than 60 works of art of every type, including visitor favorites, such as our Botticelli, and rarely seen treasures.

Marsden Hartley, Indian Fantasy, 1914, oil on canvas, 46 11/16 — 39 5/16 in., Purchased with funds from the State of North Carolina

Past is Present

Whether it’s early-aughts fashion, mid-century furniture, or vinyl albums, trends have a way of circling back. One of the latest forms making a comeback in the art world is the tondo. Taking its name from the Italian word rotondo, or ’round,’ tondi were first popularized in 15th-century Renaissance Italy. “Why Artists Are Turning to Tondo Paintings,” Artsy.net

Read more about how present-day artists are turning back to tondo paintings in the format of The Nativity and the Procession of the Magi.

Botticelli Brushwork

Did you know there’s a Botticelli at the NCMA? To see a painting by this world-renowned artist, you can travel to the galleries of East Building in Raleigh rather than to the city of Florence. Marvel at his work in the medium of tempera in person, then explore online one of his most famous paintings, The Birth of Venus.

Collecting Continues

Botticelli’s Nativity was part of a major gift from the Kress Foundation that set the NCMA on the map. The People’s Collection has grown intentionally and includes many North Carolina artists. One artist of note is Sherrill Roland, who worked on the Museum’s Community Contracts program and had an exhibition entitled The Odds at SECCA. The NCMA recently acquired his work With Heart, Letter #010814.

Art in Social Practice

Working with artists such as Stacey L. Kirby through generous Mellon Foundation funding is a priority as the Museum seeks new ways to engage audiences with art in social practice. Kirby invites Museum visitors to have one-on-one conversations with her about the past, present, and future of the NCMA in her Research and Development Office in East Building from June to September. Kirby’s open office hours of engagement are posted on her desk. This project culminates in a performance on October 9 in conjunction with the reopening of the People’s Collection.



Jun 17, 2022


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