Picture of the month

Paolo Veronese, 'The Adoration of the Kings', 1573

In this scene, depicting one of the most famous stories of all time, the Three Kings have arrived bearing gold, frankincense, and myrrh for the newborn Christ.

Paolo Veronese, ‘The Adoration of the Kings’, 1573

Paolo Veronese, ‘The Adoration of the Kings’, 1573

A striking diagonal beam of light radiates from heaven, illuminating the Virgin and Christ. Child angels and cherubim descend with the light to witness the scene. Clustered around the Virgin and Child are shepherds and animals, while the resplendent Three Kings and their attendants take up the foreground. 

Veronese portrays the kings as representative of three stages of life. The eldest is Caspar, King of Tarsus. As the most senior in age, he is the first of the kings before Christ. Kneeling, he has laid down his chalice, which contains gold, to hold out his hands in supplication.

Behind Caspar is King Melchior, in red robes, from Arabia. He is middle-aged and the pageboy to his side bears his chalice, containing frankincense.

The third and youngest king is Balthasar, from Saba. He stands, holding his chalice of myrrh, while his page arranges his green robes so that he too can kneel.

The three gifts are symbolic: gold for a king; frankincense for a priest; and myrrh for suffering and death.

The painting was commissioned by the confraternity of Saint Joseph for the parish church of San Silvestro in Venice. Saint Joseph can be spotted holding a staff at the side of the composition, looking over Mary’s shoulder at the new born Christ.