Adoration of the Magi (Bosch, Madrid)

Adoration of the Magi (Bosch, Madrid)

Artist Hieronymus Bosch
Year c. 1485-1500
Type Oil on panel
Dimensions 138 cm × 144 cm (54 in × 57 in)
Location Museo del Prado, Madrid

The Adoration of the Magi, or The Epiphany is a triptych oil painting on wood panel by the Netherlandish artist Hieronymus Bosch, executed around 1485-1500.[1] It is housed in the Museo del Prado of Madrid, Spain.


  • History 1
  • Description 2
    • Shutters 2.1
    • Side panels 2.2
    • Central panel 2.3
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • Sources 5
  • External links 6


The work was once identified with a canvas executed for the Cathedral of 's-Hertogenbosch, Bosch's hometown. However, it is now considered more likely[1] that this one is the painting owned by Jehan de Kassembrood which was seized by Fernando Álvarez de Toledo, 3rd Duke of Alba in 1567. The painting contains the coat of arms of the Bronchorst, the family of Kassembrood's wife; Kassembrood had been secretary of Lamoral, Count of Egmont, and was executed with him in 1568.

Together with other forfeited works of art, the Duke shipped the triptych to Philip II of Spain, a collector of Bosch paintings. In 1574 the painting was in the El Escorial monastery, and is mentioned in 1605 as an "Epiphany without any extravaganza", differently than other Bosch's work there.[1] It has been at the Prado since 1839.

As with most of Bosch's works, the dating is disputed, while the wooden supports of the triptych could not be dated through modern dendrochronologic analysis for technical reasons.


The closed triptych.


When closed, the triptych shutters showed externally a grisaille painting, depicting the Mass of Saint Gregory in a single scene: it features Gregory the Great kneeling at an altar in front of Christ. The latter is surrounded by an arch with flying angels. The two characters in color are a later addition, and are the painting's donors.

The frame contains scenes of the Life of Jesus: from the lower left, the Prayer in the Garden, The Arrest, Christ in Front of Pilatus, the Flagellation, the Coronation of Thorns, the Via Crucis and, finally, the Crucifixion. In the sky around the cross are a flying angel and a devil, with a red halo around his head, who is drawing Judas Iscariot's soul away. Judas is also visible hanging at the mountain's right edge, while a man is pointing at him.

Detail of the beast attacking people in the right panel.

Side panels

The left panel depict St. Peter and one donor, identified with Peter Bronckhorst thanks to the presence of his coat of arms, with the motto "Een voer al" ("One for all"). In the background, a man sits on a basket under a makeshift roofing: he is likely St. Joseph who heats Jesus' diapers.[1]

In the right panel is St. Agnes and the eponymous donor, Agnes Bosshuysse, also accompanied by her coat of arms. In the background, a bear and a wolf attack some people.

Central panel

The central panel shows the Adoration of the Magi, depicted in accordance with traditional iconography. A monumental Mary sits outside a precarious hut, with the Child held at her womb. Balthazar, the eldest of the Magi, is kneeling at her feet, with his gift before him: a golden sculpture with the Sacrifice of Isaac, a forecast of Jesus' Passion. Below the object are several toads, symbols of heresy. Balthazar's crown lies on the ground, an allusion to the powerlessness of earthly power against the celestial.

Detail of the central panel with the Magi.

Melchior stands to the rear, with a depiction of the Visit of Queen Sheba to Solomon on his mantle. He brings incense on a vessel. Finally, the last of the Magi, the dark-skinned Gaspar, has white garments decorated by an embroidery resembling thorny leaves: brings a spherical pix whose reliefs depict the Offer of Water to King David, and which contains myrrh. Gaspar is accompanied by a dark-skinned servant.

An unusual element is represented by the partially naked figure at the hut's entrance, surrounded by other grotesque ones and characterized by a red mantle, a tiara with metallic twigs in the hand, and by a wheal at the left ankle, protected by a glass structure. This has been variously interpreted as either another prefiguration of the Passion, or as a symbol of the heresy looming the followers, or as the Judaic messiah which, after having been struck by leper, has become the Antichrist.[1]

Other figures include the shepherds crawling the hut, a traditional element in Italian contemporary Adorations of the Magi; the armies running in the far background and the quasi-anthropomorphic constructions.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e Varallo, Franca (2004). Bosch. Milan: Skira. 


  • Varallo, Franca (2004). Bosch. Milan: Skira. 

External links

  • Page at the museum's official website (English)