(active 1181-1205)

Shrine of the Three Kings

Oak, gold, silver gilt, copper, enamel, jewels, 155 x 112 x 224 cm
Cathedral, Cologne

Of the works that have been attributed to Nicholas of Verdun and his workshop, only the Three Kings' shrine in Cologne Cathedral can be regarded as genuine. It is the largest and most magnificent of surviving medieval shrines and is in the form of a basilica. On the long sides at ground-storey level there are 12 prophets; at 'clerestory' level above are the 12 Apostles, in silver-gilt relief. The Adoration of the Magi and the Baptism of Christ occupy the lower section of the façade, with Christ in Majesty flanked by angels with the Instruments of the Passion above. On the other end of the shrine are scenes of the Passion, with Christ Crowning the Martyrs Nabor and Felix on the upper section.

The contents of the shrine include the relics of the Three Magi, which were transferred from Milan to Cologne by Archbishop Reinhold von Dassel in 1164 after Milan's defeat by Emperor Frederick I. The donation of Emperor Otto IV's crown after his coronation in 1198 for the skulls of the Magi, and the associated donation of gold, provide the only indication of the date of manufacture. It is presumed that the façade made entirely of gold and adorned with precious cameos dates from the time of this donation; at any rate, Otto IV (reg 1198–1218) is represented as the donor on the façade and with the Three Magi in the Adoration scene. Sections showing a later style of poorer quality are to be found on the back of the shrine; they may have been executed c. 1220. The shrine was damaged during its subsequent history, and it was altered and reduced in size during the restorations of 1804–7. It was again restored from 1967 to 1973, when some additions were made in an attempt to reconstruct its original appearance.

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