Adoration of the Magi

Unidentified Limner
Date: c. 1740
Medium: Oil on canvas
Dimensions: 29 1/2 H x 37 W
Credit: Gift of Samuel A. Ten Broeck and Miss Mary Ten Broeck
Accession Number: 1908.9.5
Comments: This is one of more than forty New York "scripture paintings," or painting with biblical subjects. The popularity of scripture paintings and portraiture in colonial New York had its roots in a seventeenth-century painting renaissance in Holland, when people from various economic classes could afford and wanted to buy artwork. The upper classes preferred formal portraits and history paintings such as this. The subject is the visit of the three kings (magi) to Mary and Joseph shortly after Jesus's birth. The holy family sits at right; the kings and their servants pay tribute at left. The tallest king illustrates a Northern European tradition that one king was black and embodies the belief that Christ came to save all races of mankind. New York artists copied European prints and paintings, but the most important source for local scripture paintings were the illustrations in Dutch Bibles. The cypress trees and architectural elements in the background of this painting do recall the Italian influence seen in Northern European paintings, but the composition relates to illustrations in the 1741 Keur Bible.