Overview

Although the original reference to the wise men, or magi, in the Gospel of Matthew is minimal, churchmen eventually elevated them to the status of kings, gave them names -- Balthasar, Caspar, and Melchior -- and invested their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh with specific meanings. The royal status and foreign origins of the three travelers inspired medieval and Renaissance artists, who gave free reign to their imaginations in treating the colorful subject.

Juan de Flandes (John of Flanders) took the opportunity to paint a fanciful scene replete with opulent costumes, gleaming gold and jewels, and varied racial types. All wear exotic headgear and carry ornate vessels containing their gifts. Visible in the distance, on horseback, are several smaller figures, members of the kings' retinue.

Although there are numerous references to this presumably northern painter in the records of his Spanish patrons, nothing is known of his early years. His reputation as an artist derives entirely from the works he produced in Spain, where he served as court painter to Queen Isabella until her death in 1504. Later, he painted this panel and its three companion pieces, also in the National Gallery; together, they once formed part of a large altarpiece in the Church of San Lázaro in Palencia.

Inscription

Marks and Labels

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Provenance

Altarpiece of the "capilla mayor (main chapel)," church of San Lázaro, Palencia, commissioned c. 1508, until at least 1761.[1] Acquired c. 1952 by (Frederick Mont, New York);[2] purchased 11 February 1953 by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, New York; gift 1961 to NGA.

Exhibition History

Bibliography

1887
Justi, Carl. "Juan de Flandes, ein niederländischer Hofmaler Isabella der Katholischen." Jahrbuch der königlich Preussischen Kunstsammlungen (Jahrbuch der Berliner Museen) 8 (1887): 167.
1907
Winkler, [Friedrich]. "Juan de Flandes." In Thieme-Becker. 37 vols. Leipzig, 1907-1950:19(1926):279.
1908
Justi, Carl. Miscellaneen aus drei Jahrhunderten spanischen Kunstlebens. 2 vols. Berlin, 1908: 1:324.
1909
Mayer, August L. "Studien zur Quattrocento-malerei in Nordwestkastilien." Repertorium für Kunstwissenschaft 32 (1909): 519.
1913
Mayer, August L. Geschichte der spanischen Malerei. 2 vols. Leipzig, 1913: 1:149.
1917
Moreno Villa, José. "Un pintor de la reina católica." Boletín de la Sociedad Española de Excursiones 25 (1917): 281.
1932
H[ulin] de L[oo], [Georges]. Trésor de l'art flamand du moyen âge au XVIIIe siècle. Mémorial de l'exposition d'art flamand ancien à Anvers. 1930. 2 vols. Paris, 1932: 1:51.
1933
Post, Chandler Rathfon. A History of Spanish Painting. 14 vols. Cambridge, Mass., 1933: 4, pt. 1:45, 50.
1950
Revilla Vielva, Ramón. "Retablo Mayor de la Santa Iglesia Catedral de Palencia." Publicaciones de la Institución "Tello Téllez de Meneses" no. 5 (1950): 98.
1952
Brans, Jan V. L. Isabel la Católica y el arte Hispano-Flamenco. Madrid, 1952: 96-98, pl. 43.
1952
Museo del Prado. Catálogo. Madrid (and later editions), 1952: 204.
1953
Brans, Jan V. L. "Juan de Flandes, pintor de la Reina y de Castilla." Clavileño 4, no. 21 (1953): 29, 32.
1954
Sánchez Cantón, Francisco Javier. "Las adquisiciones del Museo del Prado en los años 1952 y 1953." Archivo Español de Arte y Arqueologia 27 (1954): 5.
1955
Gudiol Ricart, José. Pintura Gótica. In Ars Hispaniae. 22 vols. Madrid, 1955: 9:259-260.
1956
_Paintings and Sculpture from the Kress Colllection Acquired by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation 1951-56. Introduction by John Walker, text by William E. Suida and Fern Rusk Shapley. National Gallery of Art. Washington, 1956: 110, no. 41, repro. 112.
1957
Gudiol, José. "Oeuvres inédites de Jean de Flandres." Miscellanea Prof. Dr. D. Roggen. Antwerp, 1957: 116, 118.
1958
Gaya Nuño, Juan Anotonio. La pintura española fuera de España; historia y catàlogo. Madrid, 1958: 148, nos. 761, 762.
1958
Post, Chandler Rathfon. A History of Spanish Painting. 14 vols. Cambridge, Mass., 1958: 12, part 2:615, 618, 620, 622-625, figs. 262, 263.
1959
Brans, Jan V. L. Vlaamse schilders in dienst der Koningen van Spanje. Louvain, 1959: 55.
1959
Eisler, Colin. "Juan de Flandes's Saint Michael and Saint Francis." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin n.s. 18 (1959): 130.
1959
_Paintings and Sculpture from the Samuel H. Kress Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1959: 266, repro.
1959
Sánchez Cantón, Francisco Javier. The Prado. New York, 1959: 138.
1962
Bermejo, Elisa. Juan de Flandes. Madrid, 1962: 28-31, 44, pls. 36-39.
1962
Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds., Treasures from the National Gallery of Art, New York, 1962: 62, color repro.
1962
Puyvelde, Leo van. La peinture flamande au siècle de Bosch et Breughel. Paris, 1962: 353.
1963
_Sammlung Heinz Kisters. Altdeutsche und alniederländische Gemälde. Exh. cat. Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg, 1963: 14-15, under no. 76.
1964
Anzelewsky, Fedja. "Der Meister der Lübecker Bibel von 1494." Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte 27 (1964): 57.
1965
Held, Julius S. "The Bearing of the Cross Hitherto Attributed to Juan de Flandes." The Art Quarterly 38 (1965): 31.
1965
_Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 71
1966
Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds. A Pageant of Painting from the National Gallery of Art. 2 vols. New York, 1966: 1:96-97, color repro.
1967
Vandevivere, Ignace. Primitifs flamands. Corpus. La cathédrale de Palencia et l'église paroissiale de Cervera de Pisuerga. Brussels, 1967: 44-47.
1968
_European Paintings and Sculpture: Illustrations (Companion to the Summary Catalogue, 1965). Washington, 1968: 62, no. 1384, repro.
1969
Osten, Gert von der, and Horst Vey. Painting and Sculpture in Germany and the Netherlands 1500 to 1600. Harmondsworth, 1969: 142.
1975
_European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 182, 184, repro. 183, 185.
1976
Lurie, Ann Tzeutschler. "Birth and Naming of St. John the Baptist Attributed to Juan de Flandes: A Newly Discovered Panel from a Hypothetical Altarpiece." Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art 63 (1976): 127, fig. 21.
1977
Eisler, Colin. Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection: European Schools Excluding Italian. Oxford, 1977: 187-188, fig. 189.
1978
Rogers, Millard F., Jr. Spainish Paintings in the Cincinnati Art Museum. Cincinnati, 1978: 12.
1979
De Coo, Josef, and Nicole Reynaud. "Origen del retablo de San Juan Bautista atribuido a Juan de Flandes." Archivo Español de Arte y Arqueologia 52 (1979): 140-141, figs. 7, 9.
1984
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. Washington, 1984: 138, no. 138, color repro.
1985
_European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 212, repro.
1986
Hand, John Oliver and Martha Wolff. Early Netherlandish Painting. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, 1986: 125-133, repro. 128.
1992
_National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 77, repro.
1997
_Quantum: The Magazine of Math and Science, Arlington, VA, 1997, cover, repro.
2004
Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 59, no. 44, color repro.
2011
Weniger, Matthias. Sittow, Morros, Juan de Flandes: Drei Maler aus dem Norden am Hof Isabellas der Katholischen. Kiel, 2011: 250-254, no. 12.3, fig. 178.

Technical Summary

The panel was cradled and the painting cleaned and restored in 1953/1954 in the same manner as the Annunciation, 1961.9.22. Although the edges of the panel were probably planed slightly to neaten them, the panel retains its unpainted margins. The lower margin has been trimmed somewhat, however. The panel has four vertical members and was originally prepared in the same way as 1961.9.22. However, x-radiographs of this painting and The Baptism of Christ made before they were cradled show that the horizontal battens had already been removed, though the nail holes are still visible. A broad brush underdrawing is visible with infrared reflectography, particularly in the face of the Virgin, the body of the Christ Child, and the face of the kneeling magus. A point and radiating circles incised into the ground indicate that the aureole around the star was made with a compass. The painting is in good condition. There are numerous small local losses throughout, as well as a larger loss through the nose of the Christ Child and more general abrasion along the top and bottom edges.

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