The Three Magi

Swabia, circa 1515-20
Lindenwood, polychromy, gilding
Metropolitan Museum of Art, 51.28. Purchase: Joseph Pulitzer Bequest.

Medieval iconography emphasized the universality of the Epiphany event by portraying the Magi as representing either the three ages of Man or the different parts of the Earth, with one of them pictured as an African. Here the artist uses both devices, with one old man, one of middle age, and a young African. His portrait of the African is remarkable for its accurate rendition of facial features; in many earlier images the African mage looked like just a European in blackface.

Following late medieval tradition the gold is in a box, the incense in a horn, and the myrrh in a jar. Breaking from that tradition, the work does not represent the Magi as kings.

More of the Magi

Photographed at the Metropolitan by Richard Stracke, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.