Description of this painting
This work is linked to Matthew 2:11
The central figure is one of the Magi, kneeling before Jesus, who rests on a cushion. The king is dressed as a priest and holds a censer, as if he were celebrating mass.
Behind him, looking rather disturbed, is the second wizard. The third, with a turban, is in the second row in the center. They can be identified by the gifts they have, as opposed to their colorful company.
The panel was made for the Abbey Church of Saint Michael in Antwerp.
In the Adoration of the Magi three wise men and their retinue have come from the East to greet the newborn Jesus. On the right you can see Mary, who proudly shows her child to the three wise men. She is not placed in the middle of the painting, but she is still the center of attention. Peter Paul Rubens presents here the biblical scene in the manner of an opera, with monumental characters and baroque spaces. It was perfect for the altarpiece's original location: St. Michael's Abbey Church in Antwerp. Rubens finished the panel with quick brush strokes in just two weeks. After all, he was one of the most celebrated and sought after artists of his time.
On the right, in the open manger, Joseph and Mary present the Child Jesus to the three 'kings'. This event is briefly mentioned in the Bible (Matthew 2:1-12), with only a summary of the gifts. The names and description of the kings are from later traditions. The man in the white robe holding a censer is Gaspar. The man standing behind him is Balthazar, holding an urn of myrrh in his right hand. Standing in the foreground to the left and dressed in red is Melchor, the eldest of the three. He is looking at the viewer and is holding a cup of gold coins. His entourage consists of servants, soldiers, and two men on camels in the background. Rubens' treatment differs somewhat from traditional adorations. For example, Gaspar is the closest to Jesus, not Melchor with the gold. In addition, Gaspar wears a surplice and stole, which is a liturgical attire. Rubens thus linked the story to the Eucharist with this innovation.
The painting originally hung in the St. Michael's Abbey church in Antwerp. It had been founded by the Norbertines in 1124 and grew to become one of the most powerful religious institutions in the Netherlands, partly because visiting Antwerp dignitaries stayed overnight at the Prinsenhof. Starting in the 16th century, various disasters struck the abbey. In 1501 it was struck by lightning, and in 1524 there was a fire in the transept tower. Later, during the Iconoclasm (1566) and the Spanish Fury (1576) parts of the building were destroyed by mobs. In 1620 there was a great fire in the church. It was after the fire that Abbot Matthijs Van Eerssel commissioned an altarpiece from Rubens in 1624 for 1,500 guilders, exactly 500 years after the abbey's foundation. That anniversary was probably in part the reason for the commission.
The painting graced the high altar in a monumental altar frame, a red and black marble structure surmounted by three alabaster sculptures of Saints Michael, Mary, and Norberto. The painting was flanked by columns with Corinthian capitals, an order that is repeated at the bottom of the altarpiece. Many altar frames have been lost, but the one for St. Michael is now in the Church of St. Trudo at Zundert in the Netherlands. Rubens sketched designs for it and its execution is attributed to Hans Van Mildert.
The Adoration of the Magi was painted very quickly. The bottom right ox, for example, consists of a few judiciously applied strokes against the visible brown background. Tradition has it that Rubens painted the entire altarpiece himself in just two weeks. It is impossible to verify that. When the painting was studied in detail in 2007, experts judged that it was indeed painted in its entirety by Rubens. Nothing indicates that he had help from assistants in the massive panel. It is not clear why. Rubens's studio was working full steam ahead in 1624 to handle the flood of commissions pouring in from churches and palaces across Europe. Perhaps it had something to do with the prestigious location, which had special meaning for Rubens. His mother was buried in the church, and it was where he married his first wife,
Rubens painted contemporary oriental clothing in a scene from Biblical times. In other words, we are dealing with a figment of his imagination rather than with historical reality. He based Balthazar's dress on his portrait of Nicolas de Respaigne (Kassel, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, inv. no. GK 92), a merchant who was in Aleppo in 1615 and returned to Antwerp around 1619. There is documentary evidence that De Rspaigne he left ' Turkish clothes to his son in his will.
Rubens' iconic Adoration of the Magi is one of the greatest pieces of Flemish art. In the 17th century several reduced copies were painted and served as a model for engravings.
Rubens did several paintings of the Adoration of the Magi, for example in 1618.
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