Adoration of the Magi (Rubens)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Adoration of the Magi
Rubens-adoration des mages.jpg
Artist Peter Paul Rubens
Year ca. 1616–17
Type Oil on canvas
Dimensions 251 cm × 338 cm (99 in × 133 in)
Location King's College Chapel, Cambridge, Cambridge

Peter Paul Rubens painted The Adoration of the Magi more often than any other episode from the life of Christ.[1] The adoration of the Magi (Matthew 2:1ff) offered the Counter-Reformation artist the chance to depict the richest worldly panoply, rich textiles, exotic turbans and other incidents, with a range of human types caught up in a dramatic action that expressed the humbling of the world before the Church, embodied in Madonna and child.

The horizontal composition of the Adoration of the Magi conserved at the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon[2] arranges full-length figures across the canvas, backed by a frieze-like crowd showing a variety of mature male types, twelve in all. The oldest magus kneels and kisses the foot of the Christ Child with a tender gesture, as the Child, standing on a straw-strewn table, where he is presented by the Virgin Mary,[3] touches the magus' bald head in a gesture of benediction. The dim stable is lit by shafts of light.

Peter C. Sutton suggested that, as Rubens' treatments of this subject in vertical formats were for known ecclesiastical commissions as altarpieces, the horizontal format, which is shared with Rubens' Adoration painted for the Statenkamer of Antwerp's town hall, c. 1608-09,[4] might suggest that the Lyon painting was also a secular commission.[5]

The painting had a distinguished early history: it was purchased by Maximilian II Emanuel, Prince-Elector of Bavaria in Antwerp in September 1698, from Gijsbert van Ceulen, part of a spectacular group of paintings that included twelve other paintings by Rubens that are now among the Wittelsbach works of art from Schleissheim[6] now in the Alte Pinakothek, Munich. It languished as a copy until Jacques Fouquart resuscitated its reputation, recognized as a major work of Rubens, in the exhibition Le siècle de Rubens, Paris, 1977-78.[7]

There is an oil preparatory sketch, long hidden in private collections.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hans Devisscher, Peter Paul Rubens: Aanbidding der Koningen (1992) noted ten versions of the theme and Michael Jaffé, Rubens: Catalogo completo (Milan, 1989) fifteen.
  2. ^ Inv. 118.
  3. ^ Julius S. Held observed that Rubens in his innovative treatments of the Adoration invariably represented Mary as a symbol of Ecclesia, actively presenting the Child. (Julius Held, The Oil Sketches of Peter Paul Rubens. A Critical Catalogue (Princeton, 1980), vol. I, pp 451, 456, noted by Sutton 2004:109).
  4. ^ The Antwerp painting was presented by the town magistrates to the resident Spanish Ambassador, Don Roderigo Calderón, conde d'Olíva, in 1612, and was purchased after Olíva's execution by Philip IV.
  5. ^ Peter C. Sutton, in Peter C. Sutton, Marjorie E. Wieseman, Nico van Hout Drawn by the brush: oil sketches by Peter Paul Rubens (exhibition catalogue) 2004: 109.
  6. ^ H. Bever, Katalog der Gemälde-Galerie im K. Schlosse zu Schleissheim (Munich, 1905).
  7. ^ No. 128 in the exhibition catalogue.
  8. ^ Sutton 2004: no. 6, pp 108f.