Art Reviews

Jan Gossaert: ‘The Adoration of the Kings”, Emollient Unifiaction of Contemporary Tradition



      The scene on the subject is full of colour and aggrandizement of mystical

union and purpose. Elaborate and ornate is each character, carefully fulfilling their role as spectator and retinue. Gossaert does not choose to ignore his Netherlandish predecessors with his subject; in fact, he embellishes their technique by his own installment of imagery and language. The majestic attention of the painting itself is in the center with the Madonna and child in the desolate ruins of, perhaps, a temple of sorts. Surrounding the pernicious damage are nine Angels symbolically representing the nine orders of Angels. Tradition is dominant in this painting and Gossaert does not permit a limitation of the imagination either.

      We also have three wise men, who, according to some biblical traditions, visited the baby Jesus on the night of the Nativity, bearing gifts. The first is Caspar kneeling with his gift and the baby Jesus extending a gold coin to him, perhaps signifying a communion wafer; to the right of him is Melchior holding aloft his gift for which he is accompanied by four attendants; to the left of him stand Balthazar with his gift and three of his attendants. One must notice all of the elaborate garments of vivid color and transfigurative motion that stages each of their holy scenes. Each wise man is performing his humanity to the infant Jesus. It is performed with a dutiful propensity and joyous outcome for all of salvation and hope. Joseph, Mary’s husband plays his role of innocence; he is draped in red and stands towards the center of the painting; he is in contrast to Mary’s deep garb of blue. More shepherds and animals loom in the background, giving the painting more pronounced traditionalism and divinity as the scene unfolds its magical reality to introduce humanity to the most elaborate miracle birth witnessed on the globe.

      The zenith of the painting is the Holy Spirit himself. He stands in the center of the star of Bethlehem and reigns over the entire structure of the canvas. There is a mystical suggestion of space and depth that only the characters in the painting can participate with. We, the observers, can relish in the comfort that the miracle of the Virgin Birth is secured and Christ will reign supreme and unchallenged. The expressions of each face in this work is suggestive of obedience, fearlessness, and exoneration of a once sinful past. Even the Angels, when glancing at them, seem to be swollen with contentment and propitiation.

      On a more prophetical note, it would appear that this painting is an elaborate interpretation of a prophecy by Amos. According to one account, the Virgin Mary gave birth on the ruins of David’s palace. The prophet Amos writes,

‘In that day I will restore the fallen house of David. I will repair its damaged walls.

From the ruins, I will rebuild and restore its former glory.’ (Amos 9:11 NLT)








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