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An Angelic Experience

When I encounter a sunrise, a painting, a woman, or an idea that makes my heart bound like a young calf, then I know I am standing in front of happiness.

Nikos Kazantzakis

I know exactly the feeling, Nikos – my heart bounded like a young calf when I stood in front of Domenico Ghirlandaio’s “Adoration of the Magi” (1488).

Me and Ghirlandaio’s “Adoration of the Magi” in Florence’s Museo degli Innocenti

When I last visited the painting in Florence’s Museo degli Innocenti, the museum was very quiet on a hot August afternoon and I had the painting to myself for at least a half-hour. And at that time, I could get quite close to the work to luxuriously explore all the details… without multiple alarms going off.  

There was so much to take in: the bright colours of the clothing, the variety of portrait expressions, the landscapes in the background (is that Rome?), and playing “where’s Ghirlandaio” as he often painted himself into his larger works. And I was especially delighted with the 4 angels hovering above the manger announcing “Gloria in excelsis deo” like some kind of celestial billboard. Their hair and gowns and wings and feet! Spellbound!

Looking up at Ghirlandaio’s “Adoration of the Magi”
Those Angels!!

At some point in my explorative trance, a guard came over, stood beside me in front of the painting, and in a low voice started sharing some information about the painting. At least, I THINK it was information about the painting, but as she was speaking rapid-fire Italian and I was still partially in my trance, I couldn’t be sure. I kept answering “Si, si” (yes, yes). For all I know, she could have been saying “Move along, sister!” Maybe that’s why she came back twice!

A few years later, I was searching for a subject for my annual Christmas painting and I remembered Ghirlandaio’s gorgeous angels. I scoured through my many travel photos until I found just the right one to paint from. As I started to paint it, I knew I wasn’t going to finish in time for the holidays, so I switched to a simpler image and put the unfinished painting away.

This year, five years after I started it, I decided to finish “Ghirlandaio’s Angels” for my 2021 Christmas painting. It was such a joy to paint! It has deepened my appreciation for Ghirlandaio’s brilliant work, enabled me to relive my young-calf-happy encounter with the original, and despite this difficult year, it has reminded me to count my many blessings.

Merry Christmas to you all!

“Ghirlandaio’s Angels”

(Inspired by the angels on D. Ghirlandaio’s “Adoration of the Magi”; this painting is ink and watercolour on paper; 4.18″ x 9.88″; not for sale)

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