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The Magi in Mosaics, Roof Bosses, Stained Glass, Paintings and Sculpture


Link to the famous frescos by Benozzo Gozzoli in the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi, Florence


Byzantine Mosaics of the Magi in Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna


Back to Paradoxplace Pages about Medieval Christian Church Architecture, Art and History




Dragons    Misericords    Croziers


Magi Closeup - Tours Cathedral St_Gatien


Melchior (?) leads the Magi in a c1300 window in the Cathedral St-Gatien in Tours



The Magi were the  three kings or wise men who were said (just by the gospel writer Matthew, the other gospels are silent on this) to have brought gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh to the infant Jesus.  In fact the origin of their story, like most others that became part of official Christian folklore, stretches back into Zoroasterism and the mists of pre-Christian antiquity.  The Christian celebration of their arrival is called Epiphany or twelfth night (January 6th). 


Early Christian Magi images are to be found in the mosaics of the Triumphal Arch of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome (c430) and Sant'Apollinare in Ravenna (late 400s).  


Some of the most moving representations of the Magi and their presence at the nativity stable are to be found in carved capitals, lintels and wall reliefs from the Romanesque churches of the 1100s and 1200s like Autun and Perse.


By the post 1300s Black Death days in Italy, the Romanesque simplicity of earlier times had gone, and Epiphany had become an excuse for a good party complete with dressing up and processions and lots of conspicuous consumption.  The day (and cult of the Magi) was particularly attractive for aspirant or actual rulers, who could dress up (which they all seemed to like doing) and publicly associate themselves with the Kings of old in Magi processions organized by Magi societies controlled by the aforesaid rulers.  Even our much encountered friend the Empress Theodora chose, for her mosaic appearance in San Vitale in Ravenna, a cloak trimmed with Magi images.


In addition, paintings (often large) of the adoration of the Magi provided a perfect vehicle for combining Madonna and Child with worldly power (often displaying the faces of those who had paid for the painting either as a Magi, or as a member of the crowd) and for the more ambitious artists, the opportunity to paint exotic dress, a horse or two, and even leave a self-portrait behind.  Two Medici centric examples of this are the Gozzoli fresco in the chapel of the old Medici Palace in Florence, where the Medici (who were after all only merchants and bankers = tradesmen) appear (sometimes more than once) rubbing shoulders with royalty and the Magi and only distantly with the (then Sienese) Pope, and Sandro Botticelli's "The Adoration of the Magi" (1476) which also paraded the Medici family and a self portrait of the artist.  Some of the symbolism you will see associated with the three Magi (with some Italian for fun) .......










Area of the (known) world




Point of Compass




Time of Day
















Time of Life








Theological Virtues









The remains of the Magi are said to be in a massive gold reliquary in  Cologne Cathedral

And also, would you believe, the Medici were convenors of the Society of the Magi in Florence !




The Magi elsewhere in Paradoxplace (in the wings - waiting to appear, not yet present),

and there are of course hundreds of other appearances not mentioned here - let us know about interesting ones!






Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome - Early (c430) Christian Triumphal Arch Mosaics



Basilica di Sant'Apollinare Nuovo (Ravenna) - Mosaics (late 400s)



Cloak of the Empress Theodora

(San Vitale, Ravenna)



San Leonardo di Siponto

(Gargano, Puglia)



The Magi on the lintel of the west door of the Cattedrale di San Valentino, Bitonto (Puglia)



Relief on Fidenza Duomo wall



Panel in the 1180 bronze door made by Bonanno Pisano for the Ranieri Portal of the Pisa Duomo








Fresco by Fra Angelico Cell 39, San Marco (Florence)


Frescos by Benozzo Gozzoli in the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi, Florence


Sandro Botticelli paints the (Medici) Magi

(Uffizi Gallery, Florence)



Painting by Domenico Ghirlandaio in the  Spedale degli Innocenti, Florence



Lorenzo Ghiberti

Florence Baptistery Door Panel



Painting / Relief by Benozzo Gozzoli

Volterra Duomo



Painting by Albrecht Durer

Uffizi Gallery, Florence



Painting by Gentile da Fabriano

Uffizi Gallery, Florence



Painting by Filippino Lippi

Uffizi Gallery, Florence



Painting by Perugino

Galleria Nazionale dell'Umbria, Perugia



Reliefs by Nicola Pisano

Pisa Baptistery and Siena Duomo



Painting by Raphael

Vatican Pinacoteca



Painting by Paolo Uccello

Museo Arcivescovile, Florence



Painting by Duccio di Buoninsegna

Opera del Duomo, Siena



Fresco by Giotto

Scrovegni Chapel, Padova







Medieval Capital showing the sleeping Magi (Louvre, Paris)



Autun Cathedral (Burgundy) Magi Capitals by Gislebertus



The Magi appear on platform shoes in an archivolt of the Basilique Ste-Madeleine, Vézelay (Burgundy)



The Magi in the Incarnation Window of Chartres Cathedral - one of four surviving 1100s windows


The Magi in a c1300 window in the Cathedral St-Gatien in Tours



Bas Relief of the Magi, Virgin and baby Jesus by the south porch of the pilgrimage church of Perse,  in Espalion on the river Lot





Sculpture of the Magi looking like Cavaliers in the Ambulatory of Chartres Cathedral









Tympanum of the Corticela Church, part of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela


The Visit of the Magi - second quarter 1300s - from the chapel of Doña Leonor, now in the museum of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.





Painting by Hieronymus Bosch

Prado, Madrid



Huge Painting (including a self portrait) by PP Rubens

Prado (Madrid) 





The Magi in the "Second Typological Window" in Canterbury Cathedral



Altar Screen - Christchurch Priory, South England



Roof Boss, York Minster


Bas Relief in Holy Trinity Church, Long Melford








Some other Magi representations












Magi Reliquary

Cologne Cathedral



Painting by Tomasso Masaccio

Staatliche Museen, Berlin



Painted wood doors in St Maria im Kapitol




Polychrome (=painted) granite tympanum - the Visit of the Magi - second quarter 1300s - from the chapel of Doña Leonor, now in the Museum of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.



Nativity and Magi, Pisa Cathedral Bronze Door 1180 (Sacred Destinations Photo)

Photo © Holly Hayes, Sacred Destinations


A Nativity and the Magi on a bronze door made in 1180 by Bonanno Pisano for the Ranieri portal of the Pisa Duomo, now in the Duomo museum.



St Maria im Kapitol (Cologne) - has a c1065 set of doors with painted bas-relief wooden panels.


Nativity & Magi - St Maria im Kapitol, Painted wood panel door,

Source of photo unknown


Top L to R - The shepherds are told the good news; Nativity scene.

Bottom L to R:  The Magi ask Herod the way; the Magi find Mary and Jesus.



Magi - York Minster Roof Boss


The Magi in a roof boss appearance in York Minster



Right and Below: 


An archangel appears to the Magi in a dream after they visited the baby Jesus, and warns them not to go home via King Herod, who was seriously manic about finding and killing the baby Jesus, and would have done for them had they not divulged his location.


1100s capital from an abbey in the Ile-de-France, exhibited in the Louvre, Paris



Magi - Capital in the Louvre, Paris



Magi - Capital in the Louvre, Paris



The Magi by Gislebertus in the Cathedrale ST-Lazare, Autun, Burgundy



Above:  Cathédrale St-Lazare, Autun (Burgundy) - Gislebertus' compelling child faced archangel, in one of the most moving images around, runs together the stories of the post-stable visit dream with the pre-visit guidance of a bright star in the east.


Below:  Cathédrale St-Lazare, Autun (Burgundy) - Gislebertus sculpts the Magi presenting their gifts to the infant Jesus



The Magi by Gislebertus in the Cathedrale ST-Lazare, Autun, Burgundy



The Magi - wall of l'Eglise de Perse, Espalion


Pilgrimage church of Perse, in Espalion on the River Lot (SW France)



The Magi - wall of Fidenza Duomo (Photo Julianna Lees)

Photo © Julianna Lees


The magi looking severely determined in a bas relief on the Fidenza Duomo in the Po Valley (Northern Italy).




This alabaster bas-relief in Holy Trinity Church, Long Melford, predates the c1500 church by 150 years or so and was discovered buried under the nave floor in the 1700s.  The animals are kept almost out of sight, whilst the midwife plumps the pillows in this luxury manger and Joseph has a special rest for his sleepy head!




The magi (with a few renovations) in the Altar Screen / Retable of Christchurch Priory in East Dorset (Southern England).



Fra Angelico's Magi - Cell 39, San Marco, Florence


Fra Angelico in  Cell 39 of the Dominican Convent of San Marco, Florence








 Magi Books from Amazon USA


Magi Books from Amazon UK


The excellent little book (left) by Franco Cardini is available in English and  incorporates a fascinating discussion of both the art and history of Medici Florence, and lots of illustrations outside the "standard ones". 


 Buy from Amazon USA

 Buy from Amazon UK


The Electa volume is the full monte - solo in Italiano, but then it's mostly stunning photo plates!



Magi Caspar - Capella dei Magi, Florence


Lorenzo il Magnifico


is traditionally identified with this representation of the Magi Caspar in the Medici Capella dei Magi


Link to lots more of the famous frescos by Benozzo Gozzoli in the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi, Florence

Magi Balthasar - Capella dei Magi, Florence Magi Melchior - Capella dei Magi, Florence


The magnificently kitted out Magi Balthasar in the Capella dei Magi has the face of the penultimate Eastern Emperor John VIII Palaeologus (1390 - 1448).  It is thought that the face of his horse is modelled on a bronze horse's head from antiquity then owned by Lorenzo and now in the Florence Archaeological Museum.



The old Magi Melchior was originally thought to be Joseph, Patriarch of Constantinople, who died in Florence during the Council of Florence,  but more recently he has been identified as Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund of Luxembourg.



The Magi in Mosaics in the Basilica di Sant'Apollinare Nuovo (late 400s - Ravenna)



Magi Balthasar, Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna


Balthasar (Ravenna)



Magi Balthasar, Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna


Caspar (Ravenna)



The Magi in Mosaics in the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore (c430 - Rome)



The Magi - Triumphal Arch Mosiac, Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome



The Magi in Stained Glass



The Magi in Stained Glass - Canterbury Cathedral


The Magi make four appearances in the 1100s typological window in Canterbury - here are two of them


The Magi in Stained Glass - Canterbury Cathedral


And in the Incarnation Window in Chartres, they also get four gigs (the fourth episode is in the section above this) ...


The Magi in the Incarnation Window, Chartres Cathedral



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