Adoration of kings (c.1490 – 1493) by Albrecht Durer

Adoration of kings - Albrecht Durer - c.1490 - 1493

Artwork Information

TitleAdoration of kings
ArtistAlbrecht Durer
Datec.1490 - 1493
Art MovementNorthern Renaissance

About Adoration of kings

The artwork titled “Adoration of the Kings” is attributed to Albrecht Dürer, a prominent figure in the Northern Renaissance art movement. This piece, created approximately between 1490 and 1493, is executed in tempera. Regarded as a sketch and study, it contributes to the genre by exploring religious themes and character study.

In the artwork, the scene depicts the biblical episode of the Three Wise Men, or Magi, visiting the infant Jesus Christ after his birth to honor him. To the left, we see the Virgin Mary robed in green and blue, holding the Christ Child upon her lap. In front of her, one of the kings is kneeling, presenting a gift, with his head bowed in reverence. This king, traditionally understood to be Melchior, the oldest of the trio, wears a red cloak over his more modest garments and is depicted with a full, grey beard, which conveys his age.

The second king, likely Caspar, stands behind the first, holding a gift while appearing in mid-motion, his gaze directed towards the divine infant. His expression shows awe and contemplation. He is dressed in radiant red, with his youthful appearance differentiating him from the knelt king.

To the right, the third king, often named as Balthazar, is turned away from the central event, as if he has just dismounted his horse and is preparing to approach the scene. His posture and gaze away from the central figures suggest a narrative progression where this king is just arriving. He is outfitted in clothing that suggests a fusion of European and exotic styles, indicating his foreign origin.

The composition efficiently guides the viewers’ eyes through the scene, from the humble adoration of Mary and Jesus to the awe of the standing king and the anticipatory action of the incoming third king. The landscape in the background provides a setting but remains subdued and doesn’t distract from the characters, which are the focal point of the artwork.

Dürer’s attention to detail and his use of tempera medium allows for precise lines and bright colors, which remain distinct despite the age of the painting. The piece reflects the Northern Renaissance’s focus on realism and naturalism, while also showing an interest in the emotional and spiritual narrative being depicted, characteristics common to works from that period.

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