Large Adoration of the Magi
Cleve, Joos van (c. 1485-1540/41) | Painter
Cleve, Joos van (c. 1485-1540/41) | Person(s) shown
Lazario Cattaneo, Oberto de (c. 1485-1540/41) | Person(s) shown
This altarpiece previously adorned a chapel of St Luke’s Church in Albaro near Genoa. In the 15th and 16th centuries, Genoese merchants were among the clients of the large painting workshops in the trading city of Antwerp. Van Cleve depicts the meeting between the Three Magi and the Holy Family with extraordinary narrative vitality. The splendid, fanciful garments, the rich colours, the highly detailed architecture and the landscape are typical of paintings in the Antwerp Mannerist style.
In Genoa, Italy, this painting once decorated the altar of San Luca d’Albaro – a Dominican church dedicated to Saint Luke. Saint Luke is the figure kneeling in the foreground to the right. Since according to legend, Luke drew a portrait of the Virgin Mary, he later became the patron saint of artists.
Saint Dominic, the founder of the Dominican Order, is on the left. He is accompanied by his identifying attribute, a dog with a flaming torch in its mouth. The story of Saint Dominic tells how, shortly before he was born, his mother saw just such a dog in a dream – an image alluding to the great rhetorical skills Dominic would later use to spread the light of faith in the world. Those skills are also evident in the Dominican Order’s formal name – the Order of Preachers.
The Three Kings symbolise the three continents known at that time – Melchior, kneeling in front of Jesus and Mary, represents Europe; behind him, the figure with an unusually high hat is Caspar, symbolising Asia; and on the right, bearing a chalice and dressed in a leopard skin cloak, Balthasar personifies Africa.
Incidentally, the protagonists in the Adoration are only identified as kings in the Catholic Church. The biblical accounts talk of three astrologers or magi. Around 200 AD, these figures were reinterpreted as kings, while their names as Casper, Melchior and Balthasar only became established in the sixth century. In the Reformation, Martin Luther rejected the attribution of kings. Since then, the Protestant faith talks of the new-born Jesus visited by Three Wise Men from the Orient.
- Material & Technique
- Oil on oak panel
- Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister
- c. 1517/18
- Inventory number
- Gal.-Nr. 809 A