It has become a tradition on this site to devote the feast of the Epiphany to art and in particular to paintings portraying the Adoration of the Magi. This feast officially closes the Christmas celebrations, remembering the Magi, three scholars who followed the eastern star to carry their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the Baby Jesus.
This year's post looks at "The Adoration of the Kings" (1506-07, preserved at the National Gallery in London) by Giorgione, and it is directly linked to a previous post in which we looked at "The Adoration of the Shepherds" by the same artist.
The painting is a joyous interpretation and traditional representation of the adoration characterised by a horizontal movement.
The Holy Family is depicted on the left and the Magi and their soldiers are placed around the centre and on the right side of the scene.
The most prominent Magus has already presented his gift, which is held by Saint Joseph. There are links between this painting and "The Adoration of the Shepherds": the three Magi represent indeed three different phases in the life of a human being symbolised by an elder Magus, followed by a middle-aged one and finally by a young man. In "The Adoration of the Shepherds" we had instead Joseph and the two shepherds representing the three ages of men.
In both paintings the gazes of the main characters converge upon the Baby Jesus, but there is another symbolic scene taking place behind the Magi. A knight is indeed pointing at the Child trying to attract the attention of another group of people who seem rather distracted: there is a black young man, a middle-aged Tatar in a furred cap and a Moorish Elder in what is usually interpreted as an Ottoman turban. The group represents a flawed humanity as only one of them - the young man - is looking towards Christ.
Fashion-wise you can study this painting from different points of views: the colours are rather fascinating as blocks of intense shades are juxtaposed to more elusive and soft tones and shadows. Besides, it is possible to analyse the painting from the point of view of the clothes, moving from the colourful, tight-fitting costumes of the young soldiers who accompanied the kings on their journey depicted on the far right, then passing onto the exotic attires of the Magi and of the group of men behind them, and finally looking at the neatly folded robes donned by Joseph and Mary. The vibrant robe of the Virgin Mary (linked with the sky blue tones of Joseph's tunic) is particularly striking and cuts an almost geometrical silhouette in the darkness surrounding her, donating at the same time to the painting a soothing and meditative power via its blue shade.