National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of The Adoration of the Magi Juan de Flandes (artist)
Hispano-Flemish, active 1496 - 1519
The Adoration of the Magi, c. 1508/1519
oil on panel
painted surface: 124.7 x 79 cm (49 1/8 x 31 1/8 in.) overall (panel): 126 x 82 cm (49 5/8 x 32 5/16 in.) framed: 143.2 x 99.7 x 10.7 cm (56 3/8 x 39 1/4 x 4 3/16 in.)
Samuel H. Kress Collection
1961.9.24
On View
From the Tour: Netherlandish and Spanish Altarpieces in the Late 1400s and Early 1500s
Object 2 of 6

References in the Gospel of Matthew to the wise men who followed a miraculous star to the infant Jesus are minimal, but by the seventh century churchmen in the West had made them kings, set their number at three, and given them names—Balthasar, Caspar, and Melchior. Juan de Flandes portrayed them as representatives of the three known continents—Europe, Asia, and Africa.

The Bible does specify their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, and these were often invested with various meanings. The chest of gold, which the kneeling magus offers, was traditionally given to kings. A second magus, richly dressed, gestures toward an incense burner in the form of a tower; frankincense, used to purify the temple, might symbolize Christ's divinity. The African magus holds the final gift: a bottle of myrrh. As an ointment used to anoint the dead, myrrh could refer to the sacrifice the divine infant would eventually make. Note the kings' attendants in the distance, another of Juan de Flandes' lively vignettes.

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