Geertgen tot Sint Jans ca. 1460/65 – ca. 1488/93

Adoration of the Magi (Amsterdam)

oil on panel (90 × 70 cm) — c. 1490 Museum Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Geertgen tot Sint Jans biography

This work is linked to Matthew 2:11

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Geertgen tells the story of the three wise men in two steps. In the foreground the three kings present their gifts to the baby Jesus, who is sitting on his mother Mary's lap. Her husband Joseph looks on.

In the background the three men meet. Each travelling with company and representing a continent, Africa comes from the left, Europe in the middle and Asia from the right. Research has shown that the camel one of the Asians is riding, first was a horse. Perhaps Geertgen changed it to emphasize the eastern origin of the Asian king.

Geertgen used a number of painter techniques in this panel to suggest depth and to draw the eye of the spectator to the child. Depth was created by using light, cool colors in the background and by depicting the background figures much smaller. The (adult) figures in the foreground all focus on one point, the same point where a number of diagonal lines (roof, mountains) come together.

Some of the figures in the foreground are -with all respect- badly painted. Jesus looks more like a doll than like a baby, Mary's head is extremely oval, she seems to be almost asleep, and poor Africa was hardly has a face at all. The white men are painted with more attention. Perhaps Geertgen didn't have any other models?

Three Adorations by Geertgen have survived the ages. This panel is the one that shows the most resemblance with the splendid Adoration by Hugo van der Goes. Painters in the southern part of the Netherlands obviously inspired the first masters in the northern part. Geertgen's other Adorations are in Cleveland and Prague.

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