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The Adoration of the Shepherds
Wtewael, Joachim
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Wtewael, Joachim

Utrecht, 1566 - Utrecht, 1638

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The Adoration of the Shepherds

1625. Oil on panel.
Room 076

This Adoration of the Shepherds, signed and dated 1625, was executed in the final stage in Wtewael`s career. The intellectual approach to the scene (St Luke 2:15-18), which derives its emotive force from the refined rhythm of contrasting movements and lights, underlines the painter`s faithfulness to the Mannerist aesthetic he learned during his youth in Italy and France.

The compositional structure is based on a complex scheme of diagonals forming an X-shaped cross. The elegant contrapposto of the various figures steers the viewer`s gaze along the gently undulating line formed by the people surrounding the Christ Child: from the woman in the immediate foreground who climbs the steps up to the stable, to the wheel and the gear in the foreground on her left. This type of circular composition surrounding the main subject follows the compositional rules posited by the poet, treatise writer and painter Karel van Mander in Grondt der edel vry schilderconst (Principles of the Noble and Free Art of Painting) published in 1604. To the right of the baby Jesus, among the shepherds, is the ox, a symbol of Christianity, while the mule signifying Judaism has been displaced and is located behind the Virgin, eating and oblivious to the events. The intense sensation of dynamism created by the diagonals that run through the entire composition, its scant spatial depth, the slightly off -centre position of the main feature -the Christ Child- the changes of scale, the brilliant colours, the enamelled appearance of the surface, the muscular figures, the affected expressions of both humans and animals and the openings onto the exterior in the background architecture -through which the Annunciation to the shepherds is visible, the previous episode to the scene illustrated here -are stylistic devices characteristic of the Mannerism of the Haarlem school, to which Wtewael remained faithful until the end of his career. Indeed, certain iconographic motifs are taken from the engravings of Jan Baptist Collaert (1591-1627) (print no. 4 in the Vita, Passio et Resurrectio Jesu Christi series), the engravings of Jacob Matham (1571-1631) after paintings by Abraham Bloemaert (1564-1651), or even Marten de Vos (1532-1603). Even so, the presence of naturalist elements, coupled with a less idealised rendering of the models, bear witness to his desire to follow the new trail blazed by the Utrecht painters, who proposed mixing elements from the imagination (uyt den geest) with those from life (nae`t leven). Here the Italianate model of the Virgin, which Wtewael employs in his previous adorations of the shepherds, has been replaced by a more northern European type.

The X-radiograph and infrared reflectogram of the present Adoration of the Shepherds do not reveal any compositional changes or pentimenti. The work may therefore be an autograph replica of the original in Bologna that is signed and dated 1620, where the floor is paved. Lindemann (1929) mentions another replica in the Musée des Beaux Arts in Metz, although no record of it is found in the museum today (Posada Kubissa, T.: Pintura holandesa en el Museo Nacional del Prado. Catálogo razonado, 2009, pp. 321-322).


Technical data

Related artworks

Museo del Prado, vista de una de las salas
Albumen on photographic paper, 1915 - 1930
Roig Villalonga, Juana
Inventory number
Wtewael, Joachim
The Adoration of the Shepherds
Height: 62 cm; Width: 99 cm
Royal Collection (Palacio de Aranjuez, Madrid, despacho y dormitorio del rey, 1818, nº 168).

Bibliography +

Lindemann, Catharinus, Joachim Antonisz Wtewael, Utrecht, 1929, pp. 66,67,250.

Salas, Xavier de, Museo del Prado. Catálogo de las pinturas, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1972.

Valdivieso, Enrique, Pintura Holandesa del siglo XVII en españa, Universidad, Valladolid, 1973, pp. 414.

Lowenthal, Anne W., Some paintings by Peter Wtewael (1596-1660), The Burlington magazine, 1974, pp. 458-466.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Catálogo de las pinturas, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1985, pp. 780.

Lowenthal, Anne W., Joachim Wtewael and Dutch Mannerism, Davaco., Doorspijk, 1986, pp. nºA-91/ lám.127.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Museo del Prado: inventario general de pinturas (I) La Colección Real, Museo del Prado, Espasa Calpe, Madrid, 1990.

Posada Kubissa, Teresa, Pintura holandesa en el Museo Nacional del Prado. Catálogo razonado, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2009, pp. 183-185.

Other inventories +

Inv. Real Museo, 1857. Núm. 1590.
Wytenwael (Joaquin) / 1590. La adoración de los pastores. (tabla.) / Alto 2 pies, 2 pulg, 6 lin; ancho 3 pies, 6 pulg, 8 lin.

Inv. Fernando VII, Aranjuez, 1814-1818. Núm. 168.
Despacho y Dormitorio del Rey [...] {20740} 168 / Tabla, quatro quartas largo tres alto, la Adoracion de los pastores = escuela Veneciana

Inv. Casita del Príncipe (Escorial), 1779. Núm. 168.
Otro en tabla, que contiene el Nacimiento de Cristo, de vara y tercia de largo, y tres cuartas de caída; su autor Towoel, 168

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1872-1907. Núm. 1840.
1840.-(1590-N.)-La adoracion de los pastores. / Alto 0,62; ancho 0,99.-T

Museo Real de Pinturas a la muerte de Fernando VII, 1834. Núm. f.415v.
Ciento noventa y nueve. La Adoracion de los Pastores de Joaquin Vytenbael

Inscriptions +

Jo [enlazadas] wte wael fecit · Ao 1625
Signed and dated. Front, lower area

To [enlazadas]. woel.fect /año. 1629.
Inscribed in black. Back, Upper central area

Inscribed in white. Front, lower left corner

Adoracion de los pasto- / res en tabla nº. 168. / V.G. [retirada de su emplazamiento original durante la última restauración]
Handwritten label. Back, upper right corner

Pe. Nro. Sor. [Principe Nuestro Señor]
Inscribed in black. Back, central area

Inscribed in orange. Front, lower left corner

G. O [borrada en la última restauración]
Inscribed with chalk. Back, upper left corner

Exhibitions +

Dutch Painters at the Prado
03.12.2009 - 11.04.2010

Location +

Room 076 (On Display)


Displayed objects +


Instruments, Musical

Update date: 30-11-2022 | Registry created on 28-04-2015

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