Painted circa 1525, this dramatic and theatrical depiction of the Adoration of the Magi is a fine example of the "Antwerp Mannerist" style that flourished in the city during the first three decades of the 16th Century. The elongated figures, their exotic and colorful costumes, as well as the imaginative and ornate architectural elements are all characteristics of this short-lived artistic movement that found its fullest flowering in the economic capital of Northern Europe, but was paralleled in other centers in the Southern and Northern Netherlands, and in France and Germany.
As is the case with many of these works, the author of the present panel has yet to be identified but he seems to have been familiar with the work of the Master of the Martyrdom of the Two Saint Johns, an artist named after a pair of panels: one representing the Martyrdom of Saint John the Evangelist in Paris, Musée du Louvre (inv. no. R.F. 2128); the other of the Martyrdom of Saint John the Baptist, formerly in the collection of Sir Henry Howorth, London. Two figures in the present painting, those of Caspar, the kneeling magus in the foreground, and Balthasar, the magus standing at the right and wearing a turban, are related to corresponding figures in an Adoration, published by Max. J. Friedlander in 1974 as a work of this Master, and formerly on the art market in Munich (fig. 1).1 Although similar in type and pose, the two figures depicted here are not identical and both the costumes and the form of the jeweled vessels brought as gifts differ from those seen in the Munich panel. The remaining figures and their setting, meanwhile, do not find direct parallels in other works and seem entirely original and of the artist’s own invention. The particularly rich setting of the scene, within an audaciously opulent interior, replete with elaborate columns and intricately carved reliefs, is a far cry from the humble stable of the Nativity but one to which the artist nonetheless alludes with the oxen peering from behind a column and the few stray ears of wheat seen in the foreground beside Balthasar’s meretricious boots.
1. M.J. Friedländer, Die Altniederländische Malerei, vol. XI, pp. 34 and 73, reproduced plate XXX, fig. 62; the whereabouts of that painting are currently unknown.