Posted on 05/06/2014

Photo taken on July 20, 2011

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Epiphany by the Workshop of Gerard David in the Princeton University Art Museum, July 2011

Epiphany by the Workshop of Gerard David in the Princeton University Art Museum, July 2011
Workshop of Gerard David, Netherlandish, ca. 1460–1523

Adoration of the Magi, ca. 1514

Oil on wood panel

64.2 x 82 cm (25 1/4 x 32 5/16 in.)
frame: 78.1 x 95.6 x 5.1 cm (30 3/4 x 37 5/8 x 2 in.)

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Catalogue Entry:

Born in the Northern Netherlands and active in Bruges, Gerard David built a successful career on devotional pictures, working primarily for private clients. The Adoration of the Magi was a favored subject. Here, the eldest king, kneeling before Christ and the Virgin Mary, is surely a portrait of the patron. He represents Europe. The second king, kneeling behind him, may also be a portrait, and may be a Jew, since he is bearded and ­Europeans were generally clean-shaven in this period. He represents Asia. Behind him is an African king, accompanied by an attendant. While both are dark skinned, the king may be an Ethiopian, representing one of the oldest Christian nations, while his attendant may be from sub-Saharan Africa, symbolizing the newest converts on that continent. In the ­background, Saint Joseph stands behind Mary, holding the first king’s gift. The events transpire before a ruined building, usually a sign of the Temple of the Old Dispensation, which will be supplanted by the church. Within its interior, a mysterious figure dressed in yellow and looking away from Christ may represent the Jews who did not convert to the new religion. It has recently been suggested that this heavily allegorical painting, in which the old king and the two Africans are clearly portraits from life, may have been commissioned by a Portuguese merchant who came to Antwerp with his African servants; otherwise, it is difficult to imagine how the Africans would have found themselves in the Netherlands, much less would have sat for their portraits. The painting serves as an indication of the research that remains to be carried out on the travels of Africans in Europe during the Age of Discovery.

Gallery Label:

The visit of the Magi, or Kings, who came from the East to adore the newly born Christ Child in Bethlehem, was a popular subject for devotional paintings in the fifteenth century, when it became common to depict the youngest Magus as an African to show the universality of the Christian message. Here he and his attendant are portraits from life, and must be based on Africans the artist saw in Antwerp. The patron who commissioned the painting is shown as the kneeling King. He may have been a Portuguese merchant who was portrayed with his African servants.

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