Gaspare Diziani, The Adoration of the Magi

18th century
Church of San Stefano, Venice, Italy

The naked, glowing child and Mary's holding the white cloth by one corner are details influenced by Nativity iconography. The parents are illumined by light from Heaven, but the child's light comes from within and illumines the head and hands of the kneeling mage.

Iconographically the magi represent mankind's diversity both geographically and with respect to age. The African mage is by now a firm tradition, although his turban is not. He and the third mage bend forward with extended arms precisely as the Magi in 4th-century sarcophagi. They hold the frankincense and myrrh while the elder mage kneels deeply beside his box of gold. All three are kings, with crowns and retinues befitting their station.

According to the Golden Legend Jesus was born in a "public passage…between two houses. It provided some overhead covering and served as a meeting place for townspeople" (Ryan, I, 38). This may be the source for the buildings in the painting: a flimsy structure of broken planks that covers Joseph, the animals, and perhaps the mother and child; behind it, a grand classical building; before it, the actual oculus around which the scene has been painted.

The other side of the oculus pictures an apocryphal episode in the Flight into Egypt.

Read more about images of the Magi and the Nativity.

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