Epiphany of the Lord

The Three Kings Altarpiece, Hans Baldung.


About the Artwork
Baldung was a German painter and graphic artist. He probably trained with Durer in Nuremberg, but his brilliant color, expressive use of distortion, and taste for the gruesome bring him closer in spirit to his other great German contemporary, Grunewald.

In 1507 Baldung was probably in Halle when he received the commission for the alterpiece, The Adoration of the Magi (Berlin). Although displaying some clumsiness, colors are surprisingly sure, and Baldung's self-esteem is revealed by the fact that he drew a self-portrait behind the main character at the center of the retable of Saint Sebastian. It is an oil on wood.

The Liturgical Celebration
This Sunday we celebrate the epiphany of the Lord. The word epiphany comes from the Greek noun epiphaneia, which means "shining forth," "manifestation," or "revelation." In the ancient Greco-Roman world, an epiphany referred to the appearance of one of the gods to mortals. Since Hellenistic kings and Roman emperors were considered by many to be gods, the word epiphany was also used as a term for divine majesty. The Epiphany of our Lord is the Christian festival that celebrates the many ways through signs, miracles, and preaching that Jesus revealed Himself to the world as Christ, God Incarnate, and King of kings.

The scripture: Matthew 2:1-12 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage." When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 'And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.'" Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage." When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Looking at The Three Kings Altarpiece

  • What title would you give this work of art?
  • What types of colors has the artist used? Does the color remind you of a certain feeling?
  • Does everything in the artwork look equally important?
  • What would you say if you were to meet the Lord in person?

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