Painting

Epiphany Quizzed: What Do You Know?

Magda Michalska 6 January 2018 min Read

Epiphany had been a popular subject in painting already in the Middle Ages, yet it became a topos during the Renaissance when each respected painter produced at least one adoration scene (per year, hihi). We probably are used to seeing the three Magi offering their gifts to baby Jesus but do we know anything more about it? Here comes the Epiphany quiz!

What do Christians celebrate?

Edward Burne Jones, The Adoration of the Magi, 1904, Musée d'Orsay, epiphany quiz
Edward Burne Jones, The Adoration of the Magi, 1904, Musée d’Orsay

In Western Christianity, the feast commemorates Jesus’ physical manifestation to the Three Kings thus the revelation of God incarnate as Messiah. Eastern Christians, on the other hand, see the baptism of Christ as his manifestation to the world as the Son of God and this is what they celebrate on January 19th (since they observe the Julian calendar).

Who visited Betlehem?

Gentile da Fabriano, Adoration of the Magi, 1423, Uffizi Gallery, Florence
Gentile da Fabriano, Adoration of the Magi, 1423, Uffizi Gallery, Florence

The Gospel of Matthew is the only one that mentions the three Magi, or the (Three) Wise Men or (Three) Kings. Matthew describes them as the men who came “from the east” to pay respect to the “king of the Jews”.

Who were they?

Jean Fouquet, The Adoration of the Magi, 1445, Musée Condé, Chantilly, France, epiphany quiz
Jean Fouquet, The Adoration of the Magi, 1445, Musée Condé, Chantilly, France

The New Testament does not provide the names of the Magi. However, traditions found them names: Melchior who was a Persian scholar, Caspar, who was Indian, and Balthazar, a Babylonian scholar.

What did they bring?

James Tissot: The Magi Journeying, (c. 189), Brooklyn Museum, New York City, epiphany quiz
James Tissot: The Magi Journeying, (c. 1890), Brooklyn Museum, New York City

According to tradition, they visited Jesus bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. The gifts were very symbolic: gold stood for the royal nature of Jesus and his kingship on earth. The incense was a symbol of his divinity, and myrrh, which was customarily used as an embalming oil, heralded Jesus’s sacrificial death. However, all three gifts were known as typical offerings to a king.

 

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