This beautiful bronze reliefs follows one of Flaxman's most extraordinary models: the Adoration of the Magi
. Combining almost abstracted forms with simplicity of composition, Flaxman's design has been cited as strikingly modern, and looking forward to 20th century artists such as Eric Gill (1882-1940). The marble relief version, believed to have been carved circa 1792-1794, was rediscovered in 2003 and prominently featured in an exhibition at the Bode Museum in 2009 entitled: John Flaxman and the Renaissance: A Master of Neo-Classicism in Dialogue with Masaccio and Donatello
. As the title suggests, the authors drew comparisons with the 'monumental forms of Donatello's Pazzi Madonna
as well as Massacio's sculpture-like figures' (op. cit.
, p. 65). A plaster version, coated in brown paint, and dating to circa 1792-1794 is in the Sir John Soane's Museum, London (inv. no. MRR 10). Another plaster, thought to be lifetime, was presented by University College to the University of Virginia. A bronze version on the American art market is discussed in the 2009 catalogue, which states 'its origin's in Flaxman's studio are questionable because hardly any bronzes were produced there' (op. cit.
, p. 71). There are some differences between the present relief and the marble and plaster versions, such as the fact the ends of the drapery on the right side have been cut off. Some of the details, such as some of the strands of hair, are faint. As such, it seems likely that the bronze is cast after the plasters. Whilst it is difficult to say whether it was cast in Flaxman's lifetime, the patina and the reverse are consistent with a 19th century dating.
H-U. Kessler (ed.), John Flaxman and the Renaissance: A Master of Neo-Classicism in Dialogue with Masaccio and Donatello, exh. cat. Bode-Museum, Berlin, 2009