Analysis: Botticelli’s “Adoration of the Magi”

This is the second painting by Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510) that we have analyzed as part of an ongoing larger analysis of Botticelli’s paintings, among other artworks of the Italian and European Renaissance. It was commissioned by Guasparre di Zanobi del Lama, a wealthy rogue banker of sorts who is said to have been a member of powerful “brotherhoods” and a business associate of the Medici banking family. Guasparre was ambitious, but less than a full member of the Florentine power structure. 

The painting, “Adoration of the Magi,” (see Image File #23) depicts leading male members of the Medici family as the Magi positioned to the right of the Mother and Child. This fact was long ago recognized by art historians who also recognized that the patron, del Lama, is included in the group, to the left of the central figures. Botticelli is there as well, at the position farthest left (right side of the painting). The scene ostensibly displays a rendition of the biblical scene wherein far-traveling Magi visited the new-born Christ-child in Bethlehem for the purpose of expressing their respect and adoration. 

Why the Medici substitution? Was it merely del Lama’s political appeal to hungry contemporaneous egos? Who were the biblical Magi? 

The Magi were kings, members of the high priesthood of Medes, masters of various “occult” arts, including dream interpretation and astrology—i.e., magicians.  As priest-kings, the Magi had authority over both church and state in their homelands, and they conferred kingship in neighboring areas under their influence. Botticelli’s painting depicts the Medici men in place of the men of Medes. The Medici, of course, held both sacred and secular positions of power at the highest levels. 

Now, what is the meaning and message of the painting? 

The painting, we conclude, is Guasparre del Lama’s way of paying homage not to Jesus or Mary or the Church but to the Medici; he was expressing his adoration of the Magi themselves, his adoration of the Medici who held and ever-pursued powers of church and state, his adoration of those who could hold him harmless against those he bilked. Yet it is unclear whether del Lama’s membership in any brotherhood was at high enough level to allow him to understand the degree to which the Medici family actually fitted into historical roles alluded to in the painting. Yet Botticelli must have known. There is much more to be shared in a larger writing that is underway.

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14 Responses to “Analysis: Botticelli’s “Adoration of the Magi””

  1. Sandi Says:

    It seems clear that you are pointing to a secret or hidden agenda to gain control of church, commerce and state that was rooted in the deeper history of certain families. The Medici family obviously contributed greatly to the development of the church and Florence in general, yet the Renaissance, also supported primarily by the Medici family, revived a lot of cultural artifacts that do not seem at all in sync with orthodox Christianity. Donatello’s statue of David, for example, has an almost sacriligious flavor. The sense I’m getting of this is people drawing on every possible source to create a power base and build a self-serving empire. Is that where you’re going with this?

  2. PluribusOne™ Says:

    In order to present our view fully and avoid misinterpretation, we wish to avoid revealing the whole thesis at this time and also do not want to deal with its complexity in a piecemeal manner. Do we believe that the Medici were pursuing an evil agenda? No.

  3. Valiant Says:

    If adoration was focused on the Medici as Magi, why bother including Jesus at all?

  4. PluribusOne™ Says:

    What we are saying is that the painting was designed to serve two purposes, two audiences, one for the public eye (exoteric) and one for those who knew the greater (esoteric) meaning: that Jesus was considered one of them, by his nature and ancestry.

    Bible scholars have explained that the Magi mentioned in the Bible were astrologers and initiates of other occult knowledge. That much is not controversial. This is how the Magi knew where and when the Christ Child would be born, and they also knew the purpose of his coming. No star or comet was present in the sky as generally imagined (modern astronomers have confirmed the error of that assumption) but in an astrological chart showing the imminent birth of—in the minds of the Magi—a Master Magus (culture-transforming miracle-maker).

    The Magi, or “wise men,” are believed by some scholars to have been initiates of an ancient Egyptian brotherhood that continued its existence as a secret society through the ages and down to today. We believe that is true, except that the genesis of the Order predates even the Egyptians.

  5. Valiant Says:

    When you say “down to today” are you referring to the Freemasons?

  6. PluribusOne™ Says:

    Valiant,

    We have here some books that were written by Freemasons for Freemasons, some dating back to the early 1800s. Yet even they do not reveal deeper secrets, pieces of which have begun to emerge here and there for those who take the time and make the effort to gather them up and assemble them. We will be publishing more about our findings at some point. Meanwhile, you might want to begin your own quest for the truth about not only the Freemasons but all forces of hidden history.

    You might start with books by Christopher Knight and Alan Butler: The Hiram Key, and The Hiram Key Revisited, among others. We do not endorse the whole cloth of their writings, but the books do contain readily accessible nuggets of truth. For example, on page xiii of The Hiram Key Revisited, they begin their introduction to the story of “hereditary super-priests” from Jerusalem and an agenda to make a new world.

    The powerful group that these authors refer to as Star Families are, we say, the Magi. The symbol of the “Star Families,” was a six-pointed star that finds congruence in the Medici coat of arms and has been found hidden inside the secret compartment of a ring that was worn by a Mason who was also top-ranking Templar (see William Mann’s book: The Knights Templar in the New World).

  7. Unknown Says:

    Interesting, I was just looking for information on the painting itself and I learned a little history, because to me this was just another assignment.

  8. Donald Says:

    Even the History Channel had an interesting pice on the origin on who and what the Magi were. I found it to be for the most part accurate.

    It gave reference to the fact that ONLY the nation of Israel did not practice the pagan arts of Astrology as they were bound to observe the Mosaic Law Covenant which forbade such demonic practices. However ALL of the pagan nations around them did practice this false religious belief.

    One clue to the demonic origins of the directions the Magi followed was the fact that ONLY the pagan astrological priest saw the Star, no one else is mentioned as having seen it. Also, it FIRST lead the Astrologers to Jerusalem. Why not straight to Bethlehem where Jesus was born ? Certainly if GOD was directing them, he would have properly directed them to his Son. Because it was in Jerusalem where an enemy of the promised Messiah resided. King Herod. Only after these astrologers were given strict orders to provide verification of the child’s presence to King Herod, did this mysterious Star that no one else but the Astrologers saw suddenly reappear and guide them to Bethlehem.

    There is a scripture in 2 Corinthians 10:14 where Satan is described as having the ability of being capable of “masquerading as an Angel of Light” and further on his demonic fallen angels as transforming themselves into “ministers of righteousness”. So one has to be careful about what they put their faith in. Clearly there numerous tradtions involving the Christmas celebration that have nothing to do with the original pure unadulterated Christianity.

  9. PluribusOne™ Says:

    Donald,

    I have not seen the History Channel program that mentions the Magi, so I can’t respond to that. But the idea that Israel was ever devoid of astrology and other occult practices is a commonly held Christian fiction enabled, in part, by redefining and coding the word “occult” and by misrepresenting astrology, as well as conveniently ignoring use of divinatory tools by the High Priest, which Moses helped fabricate, as plainly described in the Pentateuch. In another Hebrew holy book, The Zohar, the amplifying mystical counterpart to the Torah, there are references to astrology—Abraham, for example, used it—without placing “the stars” above the God who created those stars. Best easy evidence: look at a Hebrew calendar.

    Along with the above, I agree that the Magi are misrepresented by mainstream Christianity. In my Christian upbringing I well recall singing “We Three Kings” and hearing in Sunday school how God guided them with the Star of Bethlehem so that they could bring gifts and pay respect to baby Jesus. Magi intentions, however, appear to have been more in alignment with Herod’s because the powers of “church and state” were joined claw-in-paw in the Temple-bank, and Jesus was foreseen (via horoscope) as the reformer who would upturn not only the moneychangers’ tables but also the doctrines of demons: the “unrighteous shepherds,” the wolves in sheep’s clothing—to separate God (sacred/spiritual) from Mammon (secular/commercial).

    It is not surprising that neither Roman nor Jewish powers-that-be attempted to rescue the trouble-making Jesus from crucifixion. Yet, according to the Bible, when Jesus said “…why have you forsaken me?” he was speaking to God, and among his warnings to humanity: Judge not.

    —Alan

  10. Shelia Rainey-Knox Says:

    @ Donald – I never thought about the “wrong turn” of the Magi that way before. I am doing some extra research on this painting and a few other works from the Renaissance because I feel my textbook, college and lead professor of the course are pushing their own version of fundamental baptist propaganda. Their interpretatio of this painting is that Botticelli purposefully used the Medici family as models for the Magi and included himself in the scene as a way of equalizing themselves with God; promoting humanistic thinking; a fine way of saying “Look what we have done and how wonderful and great we are!” I’m a Christian and I don’t buy that. I feel the explanation here is much more complete and believable. To think that everything one doesn’t necessarily agree with is a personal attack on God and Christianity is foolish in itself.

  11. unknown Says:

    @ Plurisbus One, how can astronomers possibly know there was no star lightning the magi’s way? I mean, it’s not like they were there. I’m just curious.

  12. PluribusOne™ Says:

    Using computers, astronomers can effectively turn back the clock and reproduce the patterns and positions of the stars, planets, and known comets. Nothing remarkable has been found that would correlate and explain a Star of Bethlehem.

    That said, the Star of Bethlehem has been understood differently by different people. Some consider the whole story fictitious. Some believe it was an actual star, some a comet, some a UFO, some an angel of God, and some think it was Satan. Others are inclined to see the event in Bethlehem as having been “in the stars,” astrologically. In a sense, Jesus WAS the Star of Bethlehem because the Babylonian symbol for God was a star.

    The idea that there was a special star “over Bethlehem” is absurd, in our opinion, in that it is impossible to visually perceive any one star exclusively positioned over Bethlehem or any other town or city. Astrologically, however, a horoscope—which uses zodiacal constellations and planetary positions—can be cast for a birth (or anticipated birth) at any given location on Earth.

    The Magi were, among other things, astrologers. They did not go outdoors, happen to spot a star, and deduce its significance. Even if there was a unique bright light hovering in the distance (such as a UFO), they could not have determined the exact place over which it was hovering. And “following yonder star” would be like chasing after the end of a rainbow. But, by knowing the prophecy of a coming king (Micah 5:2), it would have been possible to match an aerial phenomenon with an astrological projection.

    To read an interesting essay that addresses your question indirectly, you might want to visit the website of the International Planetarium Society at: ips-planetarium.org/planetarian/articles/ common_errors_xmas.html.

  13. Joy Says:

    Is the full thesis on this painting now available?

  14. PluribusOne™ Says:

    Not yet, thanks, but if you have a question that you would rather not present as a comment, you can email us at eastwood@PluribusOne.com.

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