3. The Magi and their Florentine connections

The Magi iconography has been variably associated with the Three Ages of Man, the Three Races of Man, or the Three Parts of the World (as known in the fifteenth century: Europe, Africa, Asia). The gifts of the Magi are considered symbolic of Christ’s kingship (gold), divinity (frankincense), and death (myrrh, an embalming spice). The gesture of the older Magus, who removes his crown and kneels down in front of Christ, represents the divine child’s supremacy over earthly royalty. The journey of the Magi also symbolizes conversion to Christianity.

In the Middle Ages, the cult of the Magi was especially widespread in North Europe. During the XV century the allegorical representation of the journey and of the adoration of the Magi was adopted more and more frequently by rich merchants or emerging bankers, first in Northern Italy (in Pavia, at the court of Gian Galeazzo Visconti, and in Bologna, in the Bolognini Chapel of San Petronio), and successively in Florence. In this city, the theme of the homage to Christ paid by the powerful of the earth would enjoy a large fortune. In 1423 the banker Palla Strozzi commissioned Gentile da Fabriano the Adoration of the Magi now at the Uffizi, where Palla himself was depicted holding a falcon. The choice of being portrayed among the followers of the Magi was later emulated by Strozzi’s most famous rivals, the Medici: notable examples can be found in the Berlin tondo of Domenico Veneziano, in the cycle of Benozzo Gozzoli, and in Botticelli’s oeuvre. The Medici predilection for the Magi iconography can also be related to their involvement in the Compagnia dei Magi, a Florentine confraternity based at the San Marco complex just by the Medici Palace.

While reflecting on the Medici’s contribution to art, please consider donating to IAS to encourage both its growth and longevity. Given IAS’ impending thirtieth anniversary, IAS is asking members to consider donations in permutations of 3 and/or 30.  Whether that means a donation of $3 or $300, be certain that any donation goes far in supporting IAS’s mission, programs, fellowships, charitable activities, and publications.

In addition, it is a great time to join or renew your IAS membership (all current memberships expire on 31 December of this year). Please encourage non-members (colleagues, friends, aficionados) working on or appreciative of Italian art, architecture, and visual culture across all media, periods, and career paths to join the IAS.  

Reference: Andrea de Marchi, Gentile da Fabriano. Un viaggio nella pittura italiana alla fine del gotico, 2006.

Gentile da Fabriano, Adoration of the Magi, 1423, tempera on wood, Uffizi Gallery, Florence.

Domenico Veneziano, Adoration of the Magi, 1439-1441, tempera on wood, Gemäldegalerie, Berlin.

Benozzo Gozzoli, details  with the three kings from the Magi Chapel, 1459-1461, frescoes, Palazzo Medici Riccardi, Florence.

Sandro Botticelli, Adoration of the Magi, c. 1475–1476, tempera on panel, Uffizi Gallery, Florence.

Posted by Martina Bollini

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