This is the cover of the English-language January 2012 edition of Magnificat. It features “Adoration of the Magi,” an illumination from the Hours of Henry VIII, Tours, France, circa 1500.
© The Pierpont Morgan Library / Art Resource / Scala, Florence
I found the commentary by Pierre-Marie Dumont quite enlightening:
“In the fourth century, Byzantine art begins to differentiate the ages of the Magi; the first becomes an old man with a long white beard; the second a mature man with a brown beard; the third a clean-shaven young man. Early in the eleventh century the names of the Magi appear in tandem with their artistic representation. Beginning in the fifteenth century, Melchior is depicted with a bald head, having laid his imperial crown at the feet of Jesus. Balthasar wears a royal crown, and Caspar bears a turban. Within the same century, the symbolic color of their clothing becomes fixed: sky blue for Melchior, earthy brown for Balthasar, rose or orange mystically united to heaven for Caspar.”
Interesting fact: Melchior is a symbol of Europe, Balthasar of Asia, and Caspar of Africa. The Portuguese and Spanish have unsuccessfully attempted to introduce a fourth majestic figure: an American Indian king.
The January 2012 Magnificat is stuffed with great information and daily reflections. Give yourself the gift of a subscription!