(early 15th century, active in Hamburg)

Adoration of the Magi

Tempera on oak, 99 x 89,3 cm
Kunsthalle, Hamburg

The picture shows a panel of the St Thomas Altarpiece.

The Virgin is seated majestically enthroned on the red coverlet, which stretches over the end of the poor shed, and her head is surrounded with a huge halo. Jesus extends His hand towards the gift of one of the old Magi who kneels reverentially before Him, but Joseph, sitting on a low stool, takes the precious treasures from the Infant. Looking at the star that has led them, the other two Magi seem to agree that they have arrived at the right place.

The space of the representation is filled up by the six figures, or it is rather their massive outlines, which sometimes stand in front of each other as well as their movements that determine the space. The surroundings are just indicated: instead of allowing a view of the scenery, the mountain on the right closes the background from our sight. In terms of composition this is meant to balance the shape of the roof on the left. Thus it is the arrangement, position and movements of the six figures that give life to this carefully balanced composition. The painter stressed all the symmetrical axes of the picture, which is nearly square. The central vertical axis divides the field of the picture into two halves. The three figures of the Holy Family on the left and of the three Magi on the right are arranged in pairs by means of parallels. That is how the old King and Jesus turning towards each other correspond, as do the figures of the Virgin and of the motionless King in the centre and, finally, of Joseph and the youngest King, both of them moving, figures of whom only their half covered profiles and backs are to be seen. But, in addition to the vertical axis, the diagonal lines are also emphasized (see the lines of Joseph's leg and his right arm, the heads of the Infant and of the King in the middle, and those of the Virgin and of the kneeling King respectively). By this the composition is divided into four quarters, the painter having particularly stressed the top and bottom triangles: the former by the direct link between Joseph, Jesus and the old King and the latter by the decorative area of the red background. The regular design of the sky like a wallpaper, and the hill shaped like softly folded drapery, together with the gently gathered fabrics of the garments, which hang in parallel folds, all mark this composition as belonging to the International Gothic style. The various shapes are merged into one another in unbroken curves: let us regard, for example, Joseph's right hand: his thumb is completely included in the tapering part of the reverse side of the Virgin's cloak, while his forefinger clings close to the Child's leg. The lines which sharply intersect with each other, such as the forefinger of the King in the centre, pointing to the star, are highly expressive.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.