The Hours of Charles of Angoulême

The Hours of Charles of Angoulême Adoration of the Magi (f. 22v)


Adoration of the Magi (f. 22v)

The only illumination in the manuscript that can be attributed entirely to Jean Bourdichon, i.e. the Adoration of the Magi, appears at the beginning of sext in the Hours of the Virgin, the Cross and the Holy Ghost. It depicts the moment in the Gospel according to St Matthew (2: 1-12) when the Magi (originally described as wise men but subsequently referred to traditionally as kings, called Melchior, Gaspar and Balthazar) arrive at Christ’s birthplace after following a star. They consider him to be the king of the Jews and give him gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Bourdichon’s illumination depicts the three kings in lavish garments of gold brocade with beards to symbolize their wisdom, carrying their gifts in golden or silver-gilt goblets. From the central Middle Ages onwards, these figures were often regarded as representing the three ages of life: youth, middle age and old age. The king with the white beard in the Hours of Charles of Angoulême, Melchior, symbolises old age, but it is difficult to decide which of the two kings behind him is which because they both have beards (Gaspar, the king of youth, should have no beard). Bourdichon’s image does not feature an iconographic element popularise by Jacobus de Voragine in the late 13th century, i.e. a black Balthazar. The focal point of the illuminator’s scene is the present that Melchior is giving to the Child Jesus on Our Lady’s lap...

Séverine Lepape
Musée du Louvre

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