Object Lesson: Adoration to the Christ Child and Annunciation to the Shepherds by Bernardino Luini

Bernardino Luini (Italian, Lombardian, 1507–1532), Adoration of the Christ Child and Annunciation to the Shepherds, Oil on wood, transferred to canvas, 69 3/4 in. x 47 in., The Samuel H. Kress Collection, 61.77

Bernardino Luini’s artistic style appears to have developed under various influences during the High Renaissance, but his greatest artistic debt is owed to Leonardo da Vinci. While it is not clear if he actually studied with him, Luini was certainly aware of, and influenced by, Leonardo’s pictorial innovations. This influence is most apparent in Luini’s subtle atmospheric effects and soft chiaroscuro (arrangement of light and dark) which recall Leonardo’s own sfumato (smoky color gradations).

Luini’s painting is a simultaneous depiction of the Adoration (devotion to and worship of Jesus Christ) and the Annunciation (the announcement of the birth of Christ). In the foreground the traditional Adoration figures gaze upon the Christ Child with loving reverence, while in the window above the Angel Gabriel is seen announcing the holy event to the shepherds. Also part of Luini’s pictorial treatment are the traditional symbolic allusions to church doctrine. Mary’s blue robe refers to heavenly truth, and her red tunic to heavenly love. The animals who warm the infant with their breath represent the union Jesus came to build between the Jews (the ox) and the Gentiles (the ass). The first shepherd to arrive offers a lamb to the family, symbolizing Christ’s future sacrifice for mankind. Yet Luini, one of the least intellectual painters of this time, probably did not intend his paintings to provoke strenuous contemplation of Catholic teachings. The strong colors, clear forms, and simplified presentation convey, instead, the naive charms that establishes Luini’s original manner.

The basis for the European paintings collection at the New Orleans Museum of Art is comprised of gifts of thirty-two paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, which includes Adoration of the Christ Child and Annunciation to the Shepherds. The Kress Foundation provides crucial and ongoing support for conservation and preservation of the collection. View more of the Kress Collection in a virtual tour in partnership with the Google Arts & Culture initiative.

This Object Lesson, written by Sharon E. Stearns, is excerpted from the New Orleans Museum of Art Handbook, available for purchase in the Museum Shop. Adoration of the Christ Child and Annunciation to the Shepherds is on view in the first-floor gallery of European Renaissance Art.

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