Adoration of the Magi

Adoration of the Magi

The Adoration of the Magi is the name traditionally given to the Christian subject in the Nativity of Jesus in art in which the three Magi, represented as kings, especially in the West, having found Jesus by following a star, lay before him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, and worship him. In the church calendar, this event is commemorated in Western Christianity as the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6). The Orthodox Church commemorates the Adoration of the Magi on the Feast of the Nativity (December 25). Christian iconography has considerably expanded the bare account of the Biblical Magi given in the second chapter of the Gospel of Matthew (2:1-11) and used it to press the point that Jesus was recognized, from his earliest infancy, as king of the earth.

In the earliest depictions, the Magi are shown wearing Persian dress of trousers and Phrygian caps, usually in profile, advancing in step with their gifts held out before them. These images use Late Antique poses for barbarians submitting to an Emperor, and presenting golden wreaths, and indeed relate to images of tribute-bearers from various Mediterranean cultures going back many centuries. The earliest are from catacomb paintings and sarcophagus reliefs of the 4th century. Crowns are first seen in the 10th century, mostly in the West, where their dress had by now lost any Oriental flavour in most cases. G Schiller, "Iconography of Christian Art, Vol. I",1971 (English trans from German), Lund Humphries, London, pp100-114 & figs 245-298, ISBN 853312702] Later Byzantine images often show small pill-box like hats, whose significance is disputed. They are usually shown as the same age until about this period, but then the idea of depicting the three ages of man is introduced: a particularly beautiful example is seen on the façade of the cathedral of Orvieto. The scene was one of the most indispensable in cycles of the "Life of the Virgin" as well as the "Life of Christ".

Occasionally from the 12th century, and very often in Northern Europe from the 15th, the Magi are also made to represent the three known parts of the world: Balthasar is very commonly cast as a young African or Moor, and old Caspar is given Oriental features or, more often, dress. From the 14th century onwards, large retinues are often shown, the gifts are contained in spectacular pieces of goldsmith work, and the Magi's clothes are given increasing attentention. By the 15th century, the Adoration of the Magi is often a bravura piece in which the artist can display their handling of complex, crowded scenes involving horses and camels, but also their rendering of varied textures: the silk, fur, jewels and gold of the Kings set against the wood of the stable, the straw of Jesus's manger and the rough clothing of Joseph and the shepherds.

The scene often includes a fair diversity of animals as well: the ox and ass from the Nativity scene are usually there, but also the horses, camels, dogs, and falcons of the kings and their retinue, and sometimes other animals, such as birds in the rafters of the stable. From the 15th century onwards, the Adoration of the Magi is quite often conflated with the Adoration of the Shepherds from the account in the Gospel of Luke (2:8-20), an opportunity to bring in yet more human and animal diversity; in some compositions (triptychs for example), the two scenes are contrasted or set as pendants to the central scene, usually a Nativity.

The usefulness of the subject to the Church and the technical challenges involved in representing it have made the Adoration of the Magi a favorite subject of Christian art: chiefly painting, but also sculpture and even music (as in Gian-Carlo Menotti's Amahl and the Night Visitors).

Treatment by individual artists

Many hundreds of artists have treated the subject. A very partial list of the most celebrated follow, reading like a who's-who of painters:
*Gentile da Fabriano's "Adoration of the Magi", now in the Uffizi Gallery, Florence, is probably the most famous painting of the scene.
*Bosch: Museo del Prado, Madrid
*Botticelli: National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (see Adoration of the Magi of 1475 (Botticelli))
*Pieter Brueghel the Younger: National Gallery, Prague
*Adoration of the Magi (Andrea della Robbia), Victoria and Albert Museum
*Dürer: Uffizi Gallery, Florence
*Fra Angelico: Museo S. Marco, Florence
*Ghirlandaio: Ospedale degli Innocenti, Florence
*Benozzo Gozzoli: Convent of S. Marco, Florence
*Benozzo Gozzoli: Palazzo Medici-Riccardi, Florence
*Leonardo da Vinci: Uffizi Gallery, Florence (see also Adoration of the Magi (Leonardo))
*Filippo Lippi: National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
*Lo Spagna: altarpiece, Museo S. Francesco, Trevi
*Mantegna: Getty Museum
*Masaccio: predella from the Pisa altarpiece: Gemäldegalerie, Berlin
*Memling: Museo del Prado, Madrid
*Murillo: Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, Ohio
*Perugino: fresco, church of the Madonna delle Lacrime, Trevi; fresco, Oratorio dei Bianchi, Città della Pieve; National Gallery of Umbrian Art, Perugia
*Nicola Pisano: Baptistry, Pisa
*Poussin: Gemäldegalerie, Dresden
*Rubens: King's College Chapel, Cambridge
*Rubens: Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp
*Tiepolo: Alte Pinakothek, Munich
*Velazquez: Museo del Prado, Madrid
*Rogier van der Weyden: St Columba Altarpiece, Alte Pinakothek, Munich
*Gottfried Helnwein: Denver Art Museum [Denver Art Museum, "Radar, Selections from the Collection of Vicki and Kent Logan", Gwen F. Chanzit, 2006 [] ]

ee also

*Roman Catholic Marian art


External links

* [ Essay about Adoration of the Magi]
* [ The Magi in Mosaics, Paintings and Sculpture]

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