Art in focus: December 2019/January 2020
Journey of the Magi (detail)
Basilica Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, mosaic
Did you send a Christmas card featuring three kings, with crowns, riding on camels against a night sky in which a special star is glinting? Lots of people did. But because this part of the nativity story comes after we have celebrated Christmas, we tend not to think about the extraordinary appearance of these extra visitors to the baby.
The visitors feature in this mosaic for a church in Ravenna, Italy, which was made just 500 years after Jesus’ birth. They are named: Balthassar, Melchior and Caspar, and this is thought to be the earliest example of the three names being assigned to the Magi in Christian art. The biblical account notes that they came from ‘the east’ – but just look at the way these travellers are dressed! Curly-toed shoes, patterned breeches, jewelled clasps on flamboyant capes with contrasting neckbands and red, Phrygian caps. This is classic Persian clothing. So, it is possible that they came from modern-day Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia or the Yemen. Jesus may have been born in a humble corner of the Roman empire, but his birth was already a world event.
Art in focus is curated by Meryl Doney
Image: Wikimedia Commons
This article was published in the December 2019/January 2020 edition of Reform