Today is the Feast day of the Epiphany. In the Western church January 6 celebrates the day that “wise men from the East” met and adored the newborn Jesus (Mt. 2: 1-12). The first non-Jews (Gentiles) to see Christ, they are celebrated separately from the feast of the Nativity on December 25, commemorating the adoration of the child by the Holy Family and shepherds. Though the Bible does not specify the number, tradition holds that there were three men who visited the baby based on the offerings of gold, frankincense, and myrrh as gifts. The subject has been depicted by numerous Italian artists, including Benozzo Gozzoli, who decorated the private palace chapel of Cosimo and Piero de’Medici with frescoes showing the procession of the magi making its way to an image of the Adoration by Fra Filippo Lippi. In 1475, Sandro Botticelli depicted the scene with the roles of the Magi “played” by Cosimo (d. 1464), Piero (d. 1469), and Lorenzo de’Medici (d. 1492) and included a self-portrait at the far right of the kings’ entourage. This honoring of the Medici reflects the annual Florentine practice of reenacting the Magi’s procession in which the roles of the kings went to high-ranking citizens. Only Lorenzo, however, was still alive at the time of Botticelli’s painting.

Benozzo Gozzoli, Procession of the Youngest King (east wall), 1459-60, fresco, Chapel, Palazzo Medici Riccardi, Florence

Fra Filippo Lippi, Madonna in the Forest, c. 1460, oil on panel, Staatliche Museen, Berlin (originally chapel, Palazzo Medici Riccardi, Florence)

Fra Angelico, Adoration of the Magi, 1423-24, tempera and gold on panel, Abegg-Stiftung, Bern

Sandro Botticelli, Adoration of the Magi, c. 1475, tempera on panel, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence (formerly Santa Maria Novella)

Gentile da Fabriano, Strozzi Altarpiece, 1423, tempera on panel, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence (formerly Santa Trinita)

Giovanni Pisano, Adoration of the Magi, 1301, marble, Sant’Andrea, Pistoia

Lorenzo Ghiberti, Adoration of the Magi, 1403-24, gilded bronze, Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Florence (formerly Baptistry, Florence)

Domenico Ghirlandaio, Adoration of the Magi, 1487, tempera on wood, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

Jacopo Bassano, Adoration of the Kings, 1542, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh

Tintoretto, The Adoration of the Magi, 1582, oil on canvas, Scuola Grande di San Rocco, Venice

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