Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Three Kings

Icon representing the Three Kings offering their gifts.

As we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany today, I looked at some of the many paintings that artists have produced over the centuries, and made these observations:
- All Kings are presented with elaborate outfits and costumes, accompanied by a large retinue of attendants, servants and others caring for their animals.
- All are kneeling down, a posture of humility and respect, and some even prostrated, as the Gospels relate.
- Most are accompanied by camels, but some have horses, as well as other animals like sheep and domestic dogs accompanying them.
- Since they are referred to as Kings, most of them have crowns, but the majority of the paintings show them in turbans, a popular headwear in the Middle East and Far East countries.
- Even though the gifts were for Jesus, the baby is always shown being held by Mary, as if she wants to remain connected with him, as any mother would after giving birth - thus showing respect to mother and child.
- One of the magi is frequently depicted as black, the others dark skinned.

Epiphany by Girolamo di Santacroce
- Most artists would place the face of friends to the Magi, people who were wealthy or good to the community, as a recognition to their benevolence and generosity.
- Beggars are also frequently included in the painting, as if to take advantage of the wealthy Kings, begging for something, for anything.
- Other gifts are also in the paintings, of lesser importance, like fruit, animals, jewelry, clothing.
- The Star which the Kings followed led them to the cave of Bethlehem, and even though it was not an astronomical phenomena, it was a divine intervention, like the appearance of angels, which were sent by God.

Epiphany by Sandro Botticelli
- The Three are referred to as Wise Men, Astrologers, Kings or Magi (derivation of magicians) and their names are interesting to discuss too……
Melchior, a Persian scholar, Caspar (also Gaspar, Jaspar,) an Indian scholar, and Balthazar (also Balthassar, an Arabian scholar.)
- The gifts are also very symbolic. All three gifts are ordinary offerings and gifts given to a king. Myrrh being commonly used as an anointing oil, frankincense as a perfume, and gold as a valuable element. The three gifts had a spiritual meaning: gold as a symbol of kingship on earth, frankincense, as a symbol of deity, and myrrh (an embalming oil) as a symbol of death. Sometimes this is described more generally as gold symbolizing virtue, frankincense symbolizing, and myrrh symbolizing suffering.
- As they presented gifts to Jesus, each one of them said “I love you, I love you, I love you,” and Jesus’ response as simply “I love you too.”

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