The Restoration of The Adoration of the Shepherds by Pietro da Cortona


The painting, dated around 1658, was a gift to King Philip IV from Cardinal Francesco Barberini (1597-1679), a nephew of Pope Urban VIII (r. 1623-1644). Following the death of this Pope, who was known for his anti-Spanish tendencies, and the arrival of his Hispanophile successor Innocent X, the King issued orders for the ecclesiastical income Barberini enjoyed in Spain and Italy to be confiscated. Their reconciliation came in 1659, partly as a result of the gifts the cardinal sent to Madrid. Among them was this painting, which is executed on a support made up of forty-three small pieces of aventurine and three of slate.

Aventurine, so-called because its production was largely a matter of chance (ventura in Italian), is a glass paste which imitates the effects of the gemstone from India and Russia that, curiosly, was named after it. It began to be made early in the seventeenth century in the Venetian city of Murano by adding copper oxide to clear glass paste to achieve the characteristic sparkles of variable intensity, which Pietro da Cortona (1597-1669) uses to evoke the starry sky.

To show the effect intended by Cortona to use this material as support, the image presented below reproduces the intimacy that takes the scene in terms of the intensity with which illuminates the work. To appreciate this, look closely at the picture for a moment

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