Portinari Altarpiece

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The Portinari Altarpiece or Portinari Triptych (c. 1475) is an oil on wood triptych painting by the Flemish painter Hugo van der Goes representing the Adoration of the Shepherds. It measures 253 x 304 cm, and is now in the Galleria degli Uffizi in Florence, Italy. Of all the late fifteenth century Flemish artworks, this painting is said to be the most studied.[1]

The Portinari Altarpiece by Hugo van der Goes


The work was commissioned for the church of the hospital of Santa Maria Nuova in Florence by the Italian banker Tommaso Portinari, a descendant of the hospital's founder. Portinari lived for more than forty years in Bruges as a representative for the Medici family's bank. Portinari himself is depicted on the left panel with his two sons Antonio and Pigello; his wife Maria di Francesco Baroncelli is shown on the right panel with their daughter Margarita. All, except Pigello, are accompanied by their patron saints: Saint Thomas (with the spear), Saint Anthony (with the bell), Mary Magdalen (with the pot of ointment) and Saint Margaret (with the book and the dragon).


The central panel

In the central panel, three shepherds fall to their knees before the child Jesus. Van der Goes painted these rustic characters very realistically. Kneeling angels surround the Virgin and the Child, who is not in a crib but lies on the ground surrounded by an aureole of golden rays. This unusual representation of the adoration of Jesus is probably based on one of the visions of Saint Bridget of Sweden.

In the background, van der Goes painted scenes related to the main subject: on the left panel, Joseph and Mary on the road to Bethlehem; on the central panel (to the right), the shepherds visited by the angel; on the right panel, the Three Magi on the road to Bethlehem.

When the work arrived in Florence in 1483, it was installed in the Portinari family chapel where it was deeply admired by the Italian artists who saw it, many of whom sought to emulate it. A good example is the Adoration of the Shepherds (1485) which Domenico Ghirlandaio painted in the Sassetti Chapel in the church of Santa Trinita in Florence. However, the naturalistic depiction of the shepherds is already present in Andrea Mantegna's Adoration of the Shepherds (Metropolitan Museum, New York), which dates from around 1450.


  1. ^ Miller, Julia I. (1995). "Miraculous Childbirth and the Portinari Altarpiece". The Art Bulletin. 77: 249 – via JSTOR.


  • various (2003). Galleria degli Uffizi. Florence.

Further readingEdit

  • Margaret L. Koster. "New Documentation for the Portinari Altar-Piece". The Burlington Magazine, vol. 145 no. 1200, March 2003, pp. 164–79. JSTOR 3100633
  • M. B. McNamee. "Further Symbolism in the Portinari Altarpiece". The Art Bulletin, vol. 45 no. 2, June 1963, pp. 142–43. JSTOR 3048079