Sunday, January 7, 2018

How the Image of the Wise Men Was Formed

Paolo Veronese, Adoration of the Magi
Italian, c. 1570-1580
St. Petersburg, State Hermitage Museum
“When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem,
saying, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.”
When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.
Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.
They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it has been written through the prophet:
‘And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
since from you shall come a ruler,
who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod called the magi secretly and ascertained from them the time of the star’s appearance.
He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search diligently for the child. When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage.”
After their audience with the king they set out. And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was.
They were overjoyed at seeing the star,
and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.”

Matthew 2:1-12 (Gospel Reading for the Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord)

At Christmas I investigated the appearance of the animals at the manger, the cow and donkey that appear in every Nativity set.  It transpired that their lineage in depictions of the manger scene goes all the way back to the beginnings of Christian iconography.  So too does the iconography of the Epiphany scene.  In fact, it goes back even farther. 
View of the Gallery in the Pio-Cristiano Museum of the Vatican Museums which displays the numerous early Christian sarcophagus frontals that include the Adoration of the Magi.
The scene known as the Adoration of the Magi has one of the longest traditions in Christian art, right up there with the Good Shepherd.  Its earliest appearance is in the catacombs of Rome in the third century.  Already at this early date, many of the characteristics that would appear in virtually every image of the visit of the strangers from the East would appear.  For instance, although the Gospel of Matthew says nothing about how many magi there were, the number has already been fixed at three, probably because three gifts are mentioned:  gold, frankincense and myrrh.

In the 1980s, when treasures from the Vatican Museum Collections toured the US, I found the most immediately affecting object to be a humble, not very beautiful, indeed rudimentary burial niche frontal from the Catacomb of Priscilla.  Dated to the mid-third century it shows on the left, a depiction of a deceased woman, named Severa, with the inscription “Severa in deo vivas” (Severa, live in God).  It was this inscription that sent chills through me, for it said what I believe as a Catholic Christian, that death has no power for those who believe in Christ and, through Baptism, live in God.  Those who buried her trusted that, through her faith Severa was alive in Christ and she still lives in Him, even though her body has long ago decayed. 
Commendation of Severa and Adoration of the Magi
Closing Plate of a niche with funeral inscription of Severa
Roman Mid-3rd Century, From the Catacomb of Priscilla
Vatican, Pio-Cristiano Museum
On the right hand side of the slab is an image that is the first we have of the scene that would become known as the Adoration of the Magi.  Three identical figures, wearing the traditional dress of Persians in Roman art, approach a woman seated in a wicker chair with a baby in her lap.  They are bearing objects in their hands that they hold out as gifts.  Behind the woman and child stands a man who is pointing to a star suspended in the space between the woman and child and the first of the three man.  It is impossible to escape the conclusion that this imagined scene makes visible the scene described in the Gospel of Matthew “on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother” (Matthew 2:11).  The man standing behind the chair has been suggested to be the prophet Balaam, who predicted “A star shall advance from Jacob” (Numbers 24:17). 

Madonna and Child with Baalam and the Star
Roman, c. 200-250
Rome, Catacomb of Priscilla



Another, very similar scene appears at about the same time (c. 200-250) in two paintings in the catacomb of Priscilla (the same catacomb from which the slab comes).  In the first, the woman and child sit under a tree, while the figure of a prophet points to the star above them.  In the second, the figure of the prophet is missing, but now three figures, identical except for the color of their clothing, approach the seated woman and child, with outstretched hands. 
Adoration of the Magi
Roman, Mid-Third Century
Rome, Catacomb of Priscilla
About 50-100 years later a more detailed image appears in the catacomb of Marcus and Marcellianus in Rome and on several sarcophagus frontals.  Christianity, having survived the persecution of Diocletian and being recognized as a legitimate religion by the Edict of Milan, could begin to leave the catacombs and build churches and special cemeteries, no longer hidden from public view.  Elaborate sarcophagus frontals became crowded with biblical scenes.  And the visit of the Eastern strangers was a favorite subject for inclusion. 
Adoration of the Magi
From the Catacomb of Marcus and Marcellianus
Roman, 4th Century
Rome, Catacomb of Marcus and Marcellianus
During these years the three were shown as virtual triplets, identical looking and identically clothed, occasionally accompanied by their camels.  So, how did we get from these triplets to the three differentiated figures that we know today?
Front of a Child's Sarcophagus with the Adoration of the Magi and Daniel in the Lion's Den
Roman, c.300-330
Vatican, Pio-Cristiano Museum
Frontal From a Child's Sarcophagus  with the Adoration of the Magi and the Vision of Ezekiel
Roman, c. 300-325
Vatican, Pio-Cristiano Museum
Sarcophagus Frontal with Nativity and Epiphany Scenes
Roman, 300-330
Vatican, Pio-Cristiano Museum
Double Register Child's Sarcophagus with Biblical Scenes, including the Adoration of Magi (just below the portrait of the deceased)
Roman, c. 325-350
Vatican, Pio-Cristiano Museum
Two-Tiered Sarcophagus Frontal with Biblical Scenes
Roman, c. 325-350
Vatican,  Pio-Cristiano Museum

Differentiation had begun to occur by the time the Magi were depicted in the mosaic decoration of the triumphal arch separating the nave from the apse area of the fifth-century church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome.
Adoration of the Magi
Byzantine, c. 435
Rome, Church of Santa Maria Maggiore
This grand Imperial mosaic shows the Christ Child and His Mother seated on thrones, as if in the court of heaven, surrounded by angels and receiving the tribute of the three visitors from the East.  They are identically dressed in “Eastern” (i.e., Persian) clothing, with tight leggings, short, belted tunics, short cloaks and “Phrygian” caps and shoes with curling toes, varying only in color and adornments.

About 110 years later they are similarly depicted in a mosaic in the nave of the church of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo at Ravenna.
_Adoration of the Magi
Byzantine, c. 526
Ravenna, Church of Sant'Apollinare Nuo
Here their clothing is also distinguished by color, but the men themselves are now distinguished by the first of the conventions that would determine their appearance in the future.  One is shown as a white-haired, bearded man, the third in line is shown as a dark-haired man with a beard and the middle one is shown as a youthful man with no beard.  Their gifts are distinct as well. The first man carries an open vessel which clearly shows that it is full of gold.  The second man’s closed vessel, with its upturned rim suggests the rising of the smoke of incense, and the third man carries a round vessel with a lid, suggestive of an ointment pot.  They are approaching an image of the Virgin and Child flanked by angels against a background of date palm trees, again suggesting the Eastern setting.  Above the head of the first man appears the star. Also above their heads are the names that they had recently acquired:  Balthassar, Melchior and Gaspar.
Adoration of the Magi (detail)
Byzantine, c. 526
Ravenna, Church of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo

The Annunciation (top), Marriage of the Virgin (bottom)
and Adoration of the Magi (center)
From the Purple Gospels, Preface to the Gospel of
Matthew by St. Jerome
German (Augsburg), First Quarter of 9th Century
Munich, Bayerische Staatbibliothek
MS Clm 23631













A manuscript illustration from around the end of the 8th century or beginning of the 9th, but presumably copied form and older source, again shows three similar figures approaching the Virgin and Child.  Their tight leggings, short, belted tunics, capes and Phrygian caps suggest that this image continued for some time.






Story of the Magi
From the Sacramentary of Drogo
French (Metz), c. 850
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 9428, fol. 34v













This is underlined by a very clever series of images fitted into the confines of the letter D from the Drogo Sacramentary of about 850.  Here we see the Eastern figures meeting with Herod in the bottom of the upright stroke of D, their journey to Bethlehem in the curve and their meeting with Mother and Child at the top of the upright.







Adoration of the Magi
From the Gospel Book of Poussay
German (Reichenau), c. 980
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 10514, fol. 18v







Another 100 or so years on the “Eastern” figures have been transformed into Frankish ones.  The former marks of their Eastern origin elided rather easily into the somewhat similar clothing of the inhabitants of Western Europe.  They now wear looser trousers, boots to mid-calf, knee length tunics and short cloaks and their headgear is either missing or has begun to transform into something resembling crowns.

Adoration of the Magi
From the Troparium aeduense
French (Autun), c. 996-1024
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Arsenal 1169, fol. 13v























Another 100 years on and the beautiful manuscripts of the Reichenau School, working for the German Ottonian Emperors, produced some of the most definitive images of the Magi, which would be influential for many years. 


Adoration of the Magi
From the Gospel Book of Otto III
German (Reichenau), c. 1000
Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek
MS Clm 4453, fol. 29
Adoration of the Magi (left side)
From the Book of Pericopes of Henry II
German (Reichenau), c. 1007
Munich, Bayerisches Staatsbibliothek
MS Clm 4452, fol. 39



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Although by the time of the Reichenau images the Magi were already being thought of as Kings, this identification did not become completely established until the early 13th century.  Until then most artists depicted them as Kings, while others retained some memory of the earlier images.

Adoration of the Magi
From the Treves Sacramentary
German (Reichenau), c. 1020-1040
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 18005, fol. 34v
Adoration of the Magi
From a Gospel Book
German (Pruem), c. 1100-1150
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 17325, fol. 20



























Adoration of the Magi
St. Alban's Psalter or Psalter of Christina of Markyate
English (St. Alban's Abbey), First Half 12th Century
Hildesheim, Dombibliothek. fol.  25

The Magi Follow the Star
St. Alban's Psalter or Psalter of Christina of Markyate
English (St. Alban's Abbey), First Half 12th Century
Hildesheim, Dombibliothek. fol.  24


























Virgin and Child in Majesty with Angels and the Adoration of the Magi
Catalan, c. 1100
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Cloisters Collection

The identification with kings takes its origin from the application to the Eastern visitors of the description from Psalm 72:10-11 “May the kings of Tarshish and the islands bring tribute, the kings of Sheba and Seba offer gifts. May all kings bow before him, all nations serve him” and from Isaiah 60:6 “All from Sheba shall come bearing gold and frankincense, and heralding the praises of the LORD”.  Indeed, in some European countries the identification of the magi as kings is so strong that the preferred term for paintings is not “Adoration of the Magi”, but “Adoration of the Kings” (e.g., Die Anbetung der Köninge) and the day is not “Epiphany” but “Three Kings Day” (e.g., “Dia de los Reyes”).
Adoration of the Kings
From Miniatures of the Life of Christ
French (Picardy), c. 1170-1180
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 44, fol. 4v
Adoration of the Kings and Presentation of Jesus
From the Psalter of Saint Louis and Blanche of Castille
French, c. 1225
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Arsenal 1186, fol. 18




























Adoration of the Kings
From a Book of Hours
French (Paris), c. 1230-1240
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 92, fol. 5v
Master Henri, Adoration of the Kings
From Livre d'images de Madame Marie
Flemish (Hainaut), c. 1285-1290
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Nouvelle acquisitions francaise 16251, fol. 25v




























Adoration of the Kings
From Sermons of Maurice de Sully
Italian (Milan or Genoa), c. 1320-1330
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 187, fol. 5
Giottto, Adoration of the Kings
Italian, c. 1320
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Adoration of the Kings
From Vies des saints
French (Paris), c. 1325-1350
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 185, fol. 8
Richard de Montbaston, Adoration of the Kings
From Legenda aurea by Jacobus de Voragine
French (Paris), 1348
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 241, fol. 34v
This is somewhat unusual in spreading the narrative over two scenes suggesting a new sense of spatial relationships within the picture.  
Scenes from the Lives of Christ and the Virgin
French, c. 1350
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Adoration of the Kings
From Weltchronik
German (Regensburg), c. 1355-1365
New York, Pieropont Morgan Library
MS M 769, fol. 274r
Master of the Parement de Narbonne
Adoration of the Kings and the Kings Before Herod
From Tres belles heures de notre-dame de Jean de Berry
French (Paris), c. 1380
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Nouvelle acquisition latine 3093, fol. 50
Jacquemart de Hesdin, Adoration of the Kings
From the Petites heures de Jean de Berry
French (Bourges), c. 1385-1390
Paris,Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 18014, fol. 42v





























Adoration of the Kings (left)
Austrian, c. 1390
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Choisters Collection
Adoration of Magi (right)
Austrian, c. 1390
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Choisters Collection



























Adoration of the Kings
From the Breviary of Martin d'Aragon
Spanish (Catalan), c. 1398-1403
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Rothschild 2529, fol. 145

Boucicaut Master, Adoration of the Kings
From the Hours of Jeanne Bessonnelle
French (Paris), c. 1400-1425
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 1161, fol. 79
Master of the Coronation of the Virgin, Adoration of the Kings
From a Book of Hours Fragment
French (Paris), c. 1400-1410
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 1068, fol. 4




























Pseudo Domenico di Michelino, Adoration  of  the Kings
Italian, 15th Century
Vatican, Pinacoteca Vaticana
The Limbourg Brothers (Herman, Jean and Pol), Adoration of the Kings
From Tres Riches Heures de Jean de Berry
Flemish, c. 1411-1416
Chantilly, Musee Conde
MS 65, fol. 52
Gentile da Fabriano, Adoration of the Kings
Italian, 1423
Florence, Gallerie degli Uffizi
Fra Angelico and Fra Filippo Lippi, Adoration of the Kings
Italian,c. 1440-1460
Washington, National Gallery of Art
Adoration of the Kings
From a Book of Hours
French, c. 1450-1475
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de Franch
MS Latin 1175, fol. 55v
Jean Fouquet, Adoration of the Kings
From the Hours of Etienne Chevalier
French (Tours), c. 1452-1460
Chantilly, Musee Conde
MS 71,




























Giovanni di Paolo, Adoration of the Kings
Italian, c. 1460
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Jack and Belle Linsky Collection
However, the scene is still not the familiar crib scene we know today, one element is still missing.  What is missing is the dark skinned magi or king.  Where is he? 

As thinking about the meaning of the visit of the magi advanced in the Church during the first millennium, it became common to think of these men, first as non-Jews to whom the existence and importance of the Jesus was revealed.  Then to see them as representing the many non-Jewish peoples who had embraced Christianity.  Then to see them as representing the peoples of the entire world.  In the eighth century the Anglo-Saxon historian, Venerable Bede, recorded a tradition that the kings represented the peoples of the known world, Europe, Asia and Africa.  However, this did not appear in the visual record of western European or Byzantine art.  Why?

One reason is that the scope of what individuals in Europe or in the Byzantine Empire knew about the rest of the world was limited, especially in regard to Africa.  Bede’s reference to “Africa” should probably best be thought of as a reference to the Roman province of Africa, which was actually only those areas that form the southern shore of the Mediterranean and which today are Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt.  That there was more to Africa was known, of course, but rather vaguely.  Medieval people would have probably been vaguely aware of Ethiopia, which they thought of as a semi-mythical place, the realm of Prester John, a mythical king of a Christian kingdom surviving in the Muslim world.  But they would probably never have seen an Ethiopian, much less a person from sub-Saharan “black” Africa. 

Living in modern-day cities filled with an immense variety of people from different places and ethnic groups it is difficult to imagine living in a place where everyone looks just like you.  Yet, until very recently this was not uncommon, and still can be found in many areas of the world.  Until quite recently my trips to visit my family in rural Ireland opened this kind of isolation to me so that, on my return to New York, I would muse on the contrast between the variety I observed in a single subway car on my first day back at work and the homogeneity of my time on vacation.  People simply had never seen a dark-skinned person in their lives.  The situation was similar in relation to the beast so long attached to the magi, the camel.  Few, if any, northern Europeans had ever seen a living camel, although they may have read descriptions of them.   Consequently, when a riding animal appears in conjunction with the magi, it is either a horse or a very strange looking animal that is meant to be a camel.

So, when did the dark-skinned African member of the magi appear?  From my review of hundreds of images, it appears to have been about the middle of the 15th century.  1450 is a good date to use as a point of reference.  And this date also suggests the reason why artists began to include such figures in their work and why they began to appear where they did. 
Andrea Mantegna. The Adoration of the Magi
Italian, c. 1461
Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi
The young magus or king is now an African.  He has his own retinue of African attendants and there are almost-but-not-quite-right two-humped Bactrian camels in evidence.
It is precisely in the years just before and just after 1450 that the Portuguese Prince Henry the Navigator sent ships on expeditions down the west coast of Africa, attempting to find a sea route to the spice and luxury goods producing areas of Asia.  (Portuguese explorers reached Sierra Leone by 1461 and the Cape of Good Hope, at the southern end of the African continent, in 1488.)  In so doing his expeditions discovered areas hitherto unknown to Europeans, whose sole contact with sub-Saharan Africa had been through Arab traders.  Along with the gold found in West Africa these expeditions also resulted in the first direct involvement of Europeans in the enslavement of black Africans and their importation in small quantities into Europe. 

With living examples of Africans at last appearing in western Europe artists could now make the suggestion of the Venerable Bede a reality and truly African faces now began to appear as one of the three magi.   They begin to appear in the countries associated with the exploration and first exploitation of west Africa, which is Portugal, Spain and the Spanish-ruled Low Countries.  They entered Italy from both directions, from the north through trade with Flanders, and from the south through Spanish-dominated Naples.  From there the idea of using a black person spread to the rest of Europe, although frequently it consisted simply of coloring in the face of one of the kings whose facial features were still distinctly European.

Initially the entire output of European artists did not change the color of one of the magi.  For many years the older, entirely white grouping continued to be painted.  However, over the course of the second half of the 15th and the entire 16th century the change took hold, with panel painters seeming to adapt more completely than miniature painters.   Whether this was the result of a conservative streak in the miniaturists or is the result of them acting on instructions from the buyers of their work is hard to say. 

Adoration of the Magi
From Hours of Cecilia Gonzaga
Italian (Milan), c. 1465-1475
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 454, fol. 195r
Jean Colombe and Workshop, Adoration of the Magi
From a Book of Hours
French (Bourges), c. 1465-1470
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 248, fol. 49v
Justus of Ghent, Adoration of the Magi
Flemish, c. 1465
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art
The younger kind, who reaches to a servant for his gift at the left of this painting has African features, as does his servant, though their color seems to have faded over time.
Master of Charles de Neufchaatel, Adoration of the Magi
From a Book of Hours
French (Besancon), c. 1465-1475
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 28, fol. 60r
Master of Edward IV, Adoration of the Magi
From a Book of Hours
Flemish (Bruges), c. 1465-1480
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS W 31, fol. 70v




























Adoration of the Magi (Made of Papier Mache)
German, c. 1470-1480
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Cloisters Collection
Follower of Jean Fouquet, Adoration of the Magi
From a Book of Hours
French (Tours), c. 1470
The Hague, Koninklijk Bibliotheek
MS KB 74 G 28, fol. 72




























Hans Memling, Central Panel of the Adoration of the Magi Triptych
Flemish, c. 1470-1472
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Sano di Pietro, Adoration of the Magi
Italian, c. 1470
New  York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Robinet Testard, Journey and Adoration of the Magi
From a Book of Hours
French (Poitiers), c. 1470-1480
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 1001, fol. 51r
Jean Colombe and Workshop, Adoration of the Magi
From  Hours of Anne of France
French (Bourges), 1473
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 677, fol. 123v




























Hieronymus Bosch, Adoration of the Magi
Dutch, c. 1475
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Follower of Guillaume Vrelant, Adoration of the Magi
From a Book of Hours
Flemish (Bruges), c. 1475-1485
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 493, fol. 58v
Simon Marimion, Adoration of the Magi
From a Book of Hours
Flemish, c. 1475-1485
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 6, fol. 44v



























Sandro Botticelli, Adoration of the Magi (with members of the Medici family and their allies in the principal roles)
Italian, 1476
Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi
Sandro Botticelli. Adoration of the Magi (this time without the Medici)
Italian, c. 1478-1482
Washington, National Gallery of Art
Adoration of the Magi
From a Book of Hours
Flemish (Tournai), c. 1480-1490
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 234, fol. 83v
Adoration of the Magi
From a Book of Hours
French (Paris), c. 1480-1500
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 179, fol. 81r





























Georges Trubert, Adoration of the Magi
From a Book of Hours
French (Avignon), c. 1480-1495
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 348, fol. 88r

Jacques de Besancon, Adoration of the Magi
From Legenda aurea by Jacobus de Voragine
French (Paris), c. 1480-1490
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 244, fol. 39v
Jean Bourdichon and Workshop, Adoration of the Magi
From a Book of Hours
French (Tours), c. 1485-1495
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 291, fol. 38r

Follower of Jean Poyer, Adoration of the Magi
From a Book of Hours
French (Tours), c. 1490-1500
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 388, fol. 67v




























Hieronymous Bosch, Adoration of the Magi Triptych
Dutch, c. 1494
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado
Andrea Mantegna, Adoration of the Magi
Italian, c. 1495-1505
Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum

Master of Pertrarch's Triumphs, Adoration of the Magi
From Hours of Claude Mole
French (Paris), c. 1495-1505
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 356, fol. 23t
Master of Sir George Talbot, Adoration of the Magi
From a Book of Hours
Flemish (Bruges), c. 1495-1505
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 390, fol. 61v




























Master of the Older Prayerbook of Maximilian I
Adoration of the Magi
From the Breviary of Eleanor of Portugal
Flemish (Bruges), c. 1495-1505
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 52, fol. 61v

-Jean Poyer, Adoration of the Magi
From the Hours of Henry VIII
French (Tours), c. 1495-1500
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS H 8, fol. 61v




























Andrea della Robbia, Adoration of the Magi
Italian, c. 1500-1510
London, Victoria and Albert Museum

Jean Bourdichon, Adoration of the Magi
From Hours of Frederic of Aragon
French (Tours), c. 1501-1504
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 10532, fol. 146

Jean Bourdichon, Adoration of the Magi
From Grandes heures d'Anne de Bretagne
French (Tours), c. 1503-1508
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 9474, fol. 64v
Giorgione, Adoration of the Magi
Italian, c. 1506-1507
London, National Gallery
Juan de Flandres, Adoration of the Magi
Flemish, c. 1508-1519
Washington, National Gallery of Art
Simon Bening, Adoration of the Magi
From the Da Costa Hours
Flemish (Bruges), c. 1510-1520
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 399, fol. 162v




























Gerard David, Adoration of the Magi
Flemish, c. 1515
London, National Gallery
Simon Bening, Adoration of the Magi
From a Book of Hours
Flemish (Bruges), c. 1515-1525
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 307, fol. 59v
Master of the Ango Hours, Adoration of the Magi
From the Ango Hours
French (Rouen), c. 1515
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Nouvelle acquisition latine 392, fol. 61v




























Simon Bening, Adoration of the Magi
Flemish, Mid-1520s
Washington, National Gallery of Art
Quentin Metsys, Adoration of the Magi
Flemish, 1526
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Pieter Coecke van Aelst, Triptych of the Adoration of the Magi
Flemish, c. 1530
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado
Giulio Clovio, Adoration of the Magi
From the Farnese Hours
Italian (Rome), 1546
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 69, fol. 38v
Baptiste Pellerin, Adoration of the Magi
From the Hours of Claude Goffier
French (Paris), c. 1550-1558
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 538, fol. 37v




























Francesco Bassano. Adoration of the Magi
Italian, c. 1550-1600
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Pieter Brueghel the Younger, Adoration of the Magi
Dutch, c.1600
Saint Petersburg, State Hermitage Museum
In true Brueghel fashion the activity of the Magi, the first of whom is shown bending down at the far right to reverence the Child, is almost lost amid the daily activities of the town, as the townspeople look on curiously.
Morazzone (Pier Francesco Mazzucchelli), Adoration of the Magi
Italian, c. 1600
Washington, National Gallery of Art
Nevertheless, as the use of costly illuminated service and prayer books ceased and were almost entirely replaced by cheaper and more readily available printed books, the inclusion of a clearly African magus in Epiphany scenes became universal.  By 1600 the change was complete and this is the configuration that was reproduced time and again in painting and sculpture, and which eventually made its way to thousands and thousands of Nativity scenes, in churches and homes, both humble and grand.

For the next three hundred years the magi became more and more fabulous figures in increasingly grand and exotic costumes with increasing retinues of attendants riding camels (which also became more realistic as living examples were imported for the private zoos of important people and as Europeans began to venture once again into areas of the world where camels are common). 

Fray Juan Bautista Maino, Adoration of the Magi
Spanish, c. 1612-1614
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado
Diego Velazquez, Adoration of the Magi
Spanish, 1619
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado
Here I think Velazquez wins the prize for his painting of the cutest Baby Jesus of all time.

Abraham Bloemaert, Adoration of the Magi
Flemish, c. 1623-1624
Genoble, Musee des Beaux-Arts

Peter Paul Rubens, Adoration of the Magi
Flemish, 1624
Antwerp, Royal Museum of Fine Arts
The several compositions created by Rubens for his paintings of the Adoration of the Magi were tremendously influential for all the generations that followed him through the prints made after them.
Peter Paul Rubens, Adoration of the Magi
Flemish, c. 1628-1629
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado
Pedro Nunez del Valle, Adoration of the Magi
Spanish, 1631
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado
Peter Paul Rubens, Adoration of the Magi
Flemish, c. 1633-1634
Cambridge, King's College Chapel
Sebastien Bourdon, Adoration of the Magi
French, c. 1642-1645
Berlin, Schloss Sanssouci
Bartolome Esteban Murillo, Adoration of the Magi
Spanish, c. 1655-1660
Toledo (OH), Toledo Museum of Art
Francisco Rizi, Adoration of the Magi
Spanish, 1670
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado
Cristobal de Villalpando, Adoration of the Magi
Mexican, 1683
New York, Fordham University Collection
Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Adoration of the Magi
Italian, c. 175
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art
In the late 19th century one artist felt the need to go to the Holy Land to study its landscape and peoples and produced images of the magi that again broke with tradition.  Reasoning perhaps, that the Gospel says simply that they came “from the east” James Tissot produced several images that once again return the image of the magi to its source in the middle east.  For, in his detailed, almost archaeological pictures he presented three virtually identical persons, defined individually only by the color of their clothing and the color of their facial hair, for one is white-bearded, two are black-bearded.  Otherwise, they are all of one skin tone and of about the same height. 

James Tissot, The Magi Journeying
French, 1886-1894
New York, Brooklyn Museum
James Tissot, Adoration of the Magi
French, 1886-1894
New York, Brooklyn Museum
It is as if the entire development of the image of the magi had been on a circular trajectory, from the middle east to the Roman Empire and from the Roman to the Carolingian/Ottonian Empire, to western Europe generally, to west Africa and, finally, back to the middle east.

© M. Duffy, 2018

Notes:
Some of the development of the magi as part of the Nativity story is found on the internet at:
1.  Jensen, Robin M.  “Witnessing the Divine:  The magi in art and literature”, Bible History Today, November 17, 2016.  Reprinted from Bible Review, 2001.  (Available at: https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-topics/new-testament/witnessing-the-divine/)
2.  Harley, Felicity and McGowan, Andrew. (2016) “The Magi and the Manger: Imaging Christmas in Ancient Art and Ritual,” The Yale ISM Review, Vol. 3, No. 1, Article 2.    (Available at: http://ismreview.yale.edu)


See also a recent book:  Longenecker, Dwight.  Mystery of the Magi:  The Quest to Identify the Three Wise Men, Regnery History, Washington, D.C., 2017.

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