Jan Gossaert ca. 1478 – 1532

Adoration of the Magi

oil on panel (180 × 163 cm) — c. 1512 Museum The National Gallery, London

This work is linked to Matthew 2:11

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Colourful and vivid depiction of the well-known story of the Three Wise Men. In the top part of this large panel is the star that guided the Magi to the place where Jesus was born. Angels and a group of shepherds look on as they present their gifts. The Magi are depicted as rich kings.

The king to the left is Balthasar. Jan Gossaert signed this panel by putting his name on the cloth under Balthasar's crown. It is also on the necklace of Balthasar's servant.

In the center Caspar kneels. His gray hair suggests that he is the oldest of the three kings. His hat and scepter are on the floor. In reality this is a portrait of Daniel van Boechout, the man who commissioned the painting.

To the right, with expensive hat, is Melchior. He holds an object that contains frankincense, his gift for Jesus. Behind him we can see that many other visitors are on their way.

Gossaert put the scene not in the traditional stable but in a dilapidated palace. This enabled him to put tiles on the ground, whose lines suggest depth. And the arch in the middle gives even more depth to the painting, with a glance on structures far away.

The main figures are in the center of the scene. Mary holds Jesus, who has a gold coin in his hand. Behind them Joseph looks on, dressed in a red gown.

Gossaert made the panel for the Benedict Abbey of Geraardsbergen, in the eastern part of Flanders. He may have been inspired by an altarpiece with the Adoration by Hugo van der Goes, the Monforte retable (1475).

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