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The Adoration of the Magi

Bernardino Butinone

European Art

By the late 1400s, Black African people were increasingly visible in Europe. Some arrived as church delegates or as part of diplomatic retinues; many more were brought as a result of the European slave trade in Africa, which intensified during this time. They began to appear in European art as well, particularly in images of the three Magi paying homage to the Christ Child.

Written sources described the Magi as bearing gifts from the known continents of the time—Africa, Asia, and Europe. By the end of the fifteenth century, one of the Magi (Caspar or Balthazar) more regularly began to be depicted with the skin color and generalized facial features of a Black African man, underscoring the European dream of Christian sovereignty around the world. Here, the Black Magus is last in line, his head aligned with the camels in the procession on the hill in the background, emphasizing what contemporaneous viewers would have perceived as their shared “exoticism.”
MEDIUM Tempera on panel
  • Place Made: Italy
  • DATES ca. 1485–1495
    DIMENSIONS 9 3/4 x 8 1/2 in. (24.8 x 21.6 cm) frame: 15 x 13 x 2 3/4 in. (38.1 × 33 x 7 cm)  (show scale)
    COLLECTIONS European Art
    CREDIT LINE Bequest of Helen Babbott Sanders
    MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
    CAPTION Bernardino Butinone (Italian, Milanese, ca. 1450–1510). The Adoration of the Magi, ca. 1485–1495. Tempera on panel, 9 3/4 x 8 1/2 in. (24.8 x 21.6 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Bequest of Helen Babbott Sanders, 78.151.6 (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 78.151.6_PS2.jpg)
    IMAGE overall, 78.151.6_PS2.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2008
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    RIGHTS STATEMENT No known copyright restrictions
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