The Adoration of the Christ Child
Painted over five centuries ago, Filippo Lippi's nativity is like no other: the birth of Christ in a dark, wooded wilderness. Its beauty inspired Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Botticelli. But it also conceals a deeply personal story. It was painted for Cosimo de' Medici, a wealthy banker who feared that his money was dragging him straight to hell.
The artist's life was equally surprising. One of the most celebrated painters of his day, Filippo Lippi was also a Carmelite friar, but he was no stranger to the temptations of the flesh, to which he frequently yielded. Shortly before painting his Adoration, he caused uproar by seducing a twenty year-old nun. His paintings rejoice not just in divine beauty, but in that of women.
In later times, the Adoration's history was interwoven with that of rulers and dictators. It became a bargaining chip after Napoleon's allies seized twenty merchant ships. And in the 20th century, it was hidden by the Nazis in a potassium mine, where American troops stumbled upon it. The painting even inspired mutiny amongst US officers when the American authorities tried to appropriate it for the National Gallery of Art in Washington.