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The Adoration of the Magi, c. 1529

Cornelis Engebrechtsz
Dutch, 1460/65-1527
Oil on panel, triptych (hinged)
open: 18-3/4 x 26-7/8 in. (47.6 x 68.3 cm); closed: 18-3/4 x 13-3/8 in. (47.6 x 34.0 cm)
The Norton Simon Foundation
© The Norton Simon Foundation

Not on View

Left: Open Right: Closed

Except during times of prayer, this small triptych would have remained closed so that Saints Peter and Paul, the joint founders of the Christian Church, were visible on the closed exterior wings. The Adoration of the Magi, on the interior’s central portion, depicts the presentation of Christ to humankind. The three kings personify youth, middle age, and old age. They bear symbolic gifts for the Savior: gold, indicating royalty; frankincense, indicating divinity; and myrrh, an emblem of death that prefigures Christ’s Passion. The left portion of the triptych shows a donor with St. Bartholomew, a martyr who was flayed alive, hence the knife as his symbol. At right kneels St. Ursula, the fifth-century saint who, along with her handmaidens, was slain with arrows shot by Huns.

Cornelis Engebrechtsz. was born in Leiden; as one of the city’s favored painters, he ran a large workshop and received numerous civic and private commissions. His style is characterized by a languid line and exaggerated emotionalism, with slender figures and small, expressive hands. Technically his paintings are refined and controlled; he used an enameled glaze, applied in several layers, that resulted in a glistening surface.

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