Hendrick ter Brugghen, “The Adoration of the Magi” (1619)

Hendrick ter Brugghen, "The Adoration of the Magi" (1619)
Hendrick ter Brugghen, “The Adoration of the Magi” (1619)

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The people in the painting gaze in three different ways: looking down, looking away, looking toward. Our attention is focused, like Joseph’s, on the Magi and their age. His eyes are toward, the only person really engaging the persons of the Magi. He, like us, has something in common with them. The white folds of their garments and turbans remind one of sagging flesh. They wear their age, like Joseph. They have come to see new life. The old one kneeling intently stares at the child, trying desperately to understand what he has journeyed for.

Christ does not look back at him, but his wrinkly flesh mirrors their concern. Ter Brugghen understands why Christ in icons was depicted a homunculus – he is the Son of Man, fully Man. He readies himself for the sacrifice in accepting the gifts. The wonder of the Magi is not satisfied; no one wants to see new life end or begin in tragedy.

Still, the bright colors and sunlight of this painting do not exist for irony’s sake. This is a majestic painting, and Christ is not the only one who understands us. Mary beams and focuses on her child. In loving Him, she sees humanity. I wonder if the silver and gold of the canisters is meant to contrast with her. She stands out, perhaps to show that God’s love for man can become man’s love for each other.

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