One of the leading figures in Venetian art of the Cinquecento, Jacopo Bassano is certainly the one closest to the world of Mannerism: immediately after his training in Venice under Bonifacio de’ Pitati, he turned his attention to the extremely refined works of the painters in Emilia and, in particular, to the supple and elegant rhythms of Parmigianino. The splendid Adoration of the Shepherds is closely linked to the preciousness of Parmigianino; it was purchased by the Italian State in 1983 from Count Justo Giusti del Giardino of Verona. Documents show it had been in the nobleman’s family at least since 1620, when it was mentioned in the short poem entitled Il Sileno, by Pona, published that year.
Here the influence of Parmigianino is clearly evident in the tender figure of the Virgin, who is leaning forward to show the Child to the shepherds. The other figures are more rugged and realistic: both the men, who are minutely described in every single detail of their clothes and faces, with even each single wrinkle showing, and the powerful figures of the animals. The background consists of majestic buildings in ruins, in the Northern style made fashionable in the Veneto region by Pieter Aetsen.