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Master of Liesborn, The Adoration of the Kings

Key facts
Full title The Adoration of the Kings
Artist Master of Liesborn
Artist dates active second half of the 15th century
Series The Liesborn Altarpiece
Date made probably 1470-80
Medium and support Oil on oak
Dimensions 23.2 × 38.7 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1854
Inventory number NG258
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
The Adoration of the Kings
Master of Liesborn

This is a fragment of a scene showing the Adoration of the Kings, which was part of an altarpiece made for the high altar of the Benedictine abbey at Liesborn. Two of the three kings kneel before the Christ Child, who lies in the Virgin Mary’s lap on a white cloth. They had followed a star to find the infant Christ and bring him gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh (Matthew 2: 2–11). The king on the left has a fur-lined collar and holds a golden chalice; the king on the right is about to kiss Christ’s foot. Their tunics are woven with gold and studded with pearls.

Two other fragments from this scene survive in the Westphalian State Museum of Art and Cultural History, Münster. One shows a third king before a landscape and the other a half-length figure, possibly Joseph, Mary’s husband.

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The Liesborn Altarpiece


These images once formed part of a large altarpiece made for the high altar of the monastery church of the Benedictine abbey at Liesborn, in Westphalia in north-west Germany. The main panel consisted of a central scene of the Crucifixion, flanked on either side by two smaller individual scenes from Christ’s infancy.

In 1517 two shutters painted by the Master of Cappenberg were added to either side of the Master of Liesborn’s original panel. These showed the events leading up to Christ’s crucifixion, his resurrection and events that occurred afterwards, such as the Pentecost.

The altarpiece was removed in the eighteenth century and later cut up; only fragments survive. Six images from the main panel are in the National Gallery’s collection: three fragments of the central Crucifixion, two complete flanking images (The Annunciation and The Presentation in the Temple) and a fragment of The Adoration of the Kings, another flanking scene. Two further images come from the shutters.