In two large pictures, the Limbourgs gave a special
importance to the traditional representation of the
legend of the Magi, perhaps with the intention of
pleasing their princely patron.
The first scene represents the legend of the Magi near Jerusalem, and the second their adoration of the Christ Child. The legend of the wise men was one of the many medieval picturesque traditions; imaginations were stirred by the journey from the East to worship the Infant Jesus and present Him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Although Saint Matthew, the only Evangelist to mention the Magi, simply states that "there came wise men from the East to Jerusalem, " from the time of the commentaries of the Church Fathers the Magi's number was traditionally fixed at three and they were generally believed to have been kings, come from faraway lands of gold and spice.
Melchior, the first, was visualized as an old man presenting gold, Caspar, the second, as a beardless youth offering incense, and Balthasar, the third, as a mature bearded man bringing myrrh.
In this miniature the three Magi are represented in accordance with these conceptions. Coming from different parts of the world, they meet at a crossing marked by a delicately ornamented Montjoie, such as those used at the time of the Crusades to indicate sites from which Jerusalem could he seen.
At the lower right, Melchior seemingly wears the coiffure and dress of the Byzantine Emperor, Manuel II Paleologus (cf. folio 22r).
On the left, Balthasar, looking rather like a sultan with his black beard and turban, was inspired by an equestrian portrait of Constantine on a gold medal owned by the Duc de Berry (a copy is now in the Bihliothèque Nationale).
Caspar, on the upper right, his traits reminiscent of the first Caesars, of whom the Duke also owned medals, now lost.
To emphasize the Oriental origins of the kings, the Limbourgs represented all the figures of the retinue turbaned and accompanied by exotic animals, camels and cheetahs.
From the crossroads, we see a city, meant to he Jerusalem. But the buildings are easily recognizable as those of Paris: on one side the Sainte-Chapelle, the Palais, Notre-Dame, and, on a little hill, the Abbaye de Montmartre. Rising on the other side is probably the Chateau de Montlhéry.
small image (26KB) --- large image (259KB) --- Balthasar and Caspar (large) (234KB) --- Melchior (large) (242KB)