European Art

All You Need to Know About the Epiphany

Magda Michalska 6 January 2024 min Read

The Epiphany was already a popular subject in painting in the Middle Ages, yet it became a topos during the Renaissance when each respected painter produced at least one adoration scene. We probably are used to seeing the three magi offering their gifts to baby Jesus but do we know anything more about it? Here’s all you need to know about the Epiphany!

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, Paris, France.

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 Bethlehem?

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

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, tradition has 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, NY, USA.

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.

Get your daily dose of art

Click and follow us on Google News to stay updated all the time


greek mythology icarus European Art

7 Things That Could Only Happen to You in Greek Mythology

Thinking your luck couldn’t get any worse? Well, brace yourself for a humorous journey into the world of Greek mythology, where even the mighty...

Ania Kaczynska 3 October 2023

Alexandre_Brun_-_View_of_the_Salon_Carré_at_the_Louvre European Art

Louvre: The World’s Most Famous Museum

Nestled in the heart of Paris on the right bank of the Seine, Musée du Louvre stands as a testament to human creativity and a shared cultural...

Maya M. Tola 14 July 2023

Cristiano Banti, Portrait of Alaide. European Art

Rediscovering the Macchiaioli: Italy’s Revolutionary Impressionists

You’ve heard of the larger-than-life Impressionists who captivated Europe and the world at large with their dazzling light and color. But what...

Natalia Iacobelli 20 June 2023

European Art

Urban Moonlight: A New Genre in 19th Century European Painting

In the 20th century, the electrically lit city painted by Georgia O’Keefe, Edward Hopper, and Joseph Stella became a standout feature of modern...

Guest Profile 25 May 2023