Artibus et Historiae no. 34 (XVII)

1996, ISSN 0391-9064

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YONA PINSON - Connotations of Sin and Heresy in the Figure of the Black King in Some Northern Renaissance Adorations

The image of the dark or black king in the Adoration derives from a passage of Pseudo-Bede. In later exegetical sources the personage was described
as an Ethiopian or black African.

Although the third Magus' blackness derives from early exegetical sources, became established in the visual arts only in the late Middle Ages and Renaissance. In contemporary culture, both high and popular, the blackness of the Ethiopian and the Moor was associated with evil, sin and heresy. These established prejudices might have been transferred to the third Magus. Such hints of evil and heresy are usually concealed in the adornments, attributes or the offering of the Black King as he bows down to the Child (see Ulrich Apt's and Schaufelein's versions).

The present study focuses mainly on Bosch's and Breugel's versions. These two related works raise many problems of interpretation. I suggest a new reading of the Black Magus, based on the emblematic signs concealed in the ornamentation of the kings' cloaks, their offerings, and also their gestures and attributes; this is examined in relation both to patristic exegetical literature and to the contemporary image of black in popular literature. The penetration of the negative image of the black man into a high devotional moment is significant.

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