Drawn by the Brush: Oil Sketches by Peter Paul Rubens
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The Church Triumphant
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Peter Paul Rubens
Adoration of the Magi, ca. 1617-18
Oil on panel, 48.2 x 64.8 cm
Private Collection (Courtesy David Koetser, Zurich)

Catalog Entry by Peter C. Sutton

The subject is based on Matthew 2:1ff. In a horizontal composition composed of full-length figures arrayed friezelike across the panel, the three magnificently attired kings and their entourage approach the Holy Family in the manger. The Madonna in white and golden robes stands holding the Christ Child, whose tiny foot is held and kissed in a tender gesture by the oldest magus, the Assyrian king Caspar, who kneels wearing gold and blue drapery and an ermine stole. The Christ Child raises his hand in a blessing above the king's bare head. Behind the kneeling magus stands the second king viewed in profile with white turban, brown robes, and a brilliant red mantle. The long train of his garment is borne by a page wearing a chasuble. The third, Ethiopian, king, called Balthazar or Melchior, stands with arms akimbo at the back left, wearing a tall white turban and long blue cape over a golden tunic and pink sash. Two soldiers with armor and shields, one wearing a plumed helmet, stand behind the central king, and many bearded men and young boys are among the curious onlookers. In addition to the golden bowl resting on the manger, the magi bring other gifts, including a golden wine cup held by a page at the second king's side and a golden box carried by a bearded servant in a crimson tunic in the crowd at the back left. The stable is adumbrated only in the most cursory fashion, a ramble of planks and earth, with glimpses of slate blue sky in both upper corners and pennants faintly fluttering at the left above the heads of horses...

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