• The black King: Symbol of thriving trade

013 CC Aanbidding drieluik BMH s00177_01

Anonymous
Adoration of the Magi,
triptych first quarter 16th century Southern Netherlands (Antwerp?)
Oil on panel, central panel 88 x 56.5 cm, wings 91 x 25 cm Museum Catharijneconvent, Utrecht, BMH s00177

On this early sixteenth-century triptych we see a sumptuously clad Black King hastening towards the Virgin Mary and Child to present his gift. He is already raising the lid of the container in order to let her see or smell the contents, which may be frankincense.

013 CC Aanbidding drieluik detail 1

 

The artist has paid considerably less attention to Mary who is rendered quite schematically and looks rather sour. The Ethiopian King is dressed in elegant royal red. On his head he wears amagnificent red turban with a golden crown. Everything about him exudes wealth and power. His face looks remarkably natural and seems to have been painted ‘from life’.

013 CC Aanbidding drieluik detail 3

The clothing worn by Black Kings varies according to period and artist. They may be dressed in oriental (Moorish) fashion, European style, Roman costume or in extravagant, fanciful clothing. This Black King also wears an earring, a common attribute of black men in western art which may take the form of a simple pearl or gold ring, as here, or comprise a more intricate design.

A few examples:

Drieluik met de aanbidding der koningen middenpaneel en binnenzijde vleugels  toegeschreven aan Meester van Alkmaar, ca. 1500 - ca. 1504SK-C-1364 collectie Rijksmuseum detail

Drieluik met de aanbidding der koningen middenpaneel en binnenzijde vleugels toegeschreven aan Meester van Alkmaar, ca. 1500 – ca. 1504SK-C-1364 collectie Rijksmuseum detail

De aanbidding van de drie koningen, Jacob Cornelisz. van Oostsanen, 1517 SK-A-4706 collectie Rijksmuseum detail

De aanbidding van de drie koningen, Jacob Cornelisz. van Oostsanen, 1517 SK-A-4706 collectie Rijksmuseum detail

De aanbidding der koningen, atelier van Jacob Cornelisz. van Oostsanen, ca. 1510 - ca. 1515 SK-A-3324 collectie Rijksmuseum

De aanbidding der koningen, atelier van Jacob Cornelisz. van Oostsanen, ca. 1510 – ca. 1515 SK-A-3324 collectie Rijksmuseum

Bosch Aanbidding Metropolitan NY

Bosch Aanbidding Metropolitan NY

The work, from the Catharijne Convent in Utrecht, is probably a product of mass production. A genuine ‘Magi’ industry developed in and around Antwerp in the early sixteenth century. Scores of studios produced Adorations which, like this painting, paid a great deal of attention to the richly arrayed Kings.

They had become the symbols of thriving trade.

Esther Schreuder in Black is beautiful, Rubens to Dumas (2008)

All photos on this site are not intended for any commercial purpose. I have tried to trace all the rules and rights of all images. As far as I know, these images can be used in this way. If you ar a copyright holder and would like a piece of your work removed or the creditline changed then please do not hesitate to contact me.

Research has been made possible thanks to a contribution of de Mondriaan foundation, AFK and VSB fonds.

For more information, please feel free to contact me   estherschreuderwebsite@gmail.com

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