Biblical Art

Emotion of Epiphany depicted through art

On Sunday, January 6th, the church celebrates Epiphany. defines Epiphany:

“Epiphany is one of the oldest Christian feasts. It was celebrated since the end of the second century, before the Christmas holiday was established. It is commonly known as Twelfth Night, Twelfth Day, or the Feast of Epiphany. It means “manifestation” or “showing forth.” It is also called Theophany (“manifestation of God”), especially by Eastern Christians. Epiphany also refers to the church season that follows the day.

It commemorates the first two occasions on which Jesus’ divinity, according to Christian belief, was manifested: when the three kings visited infant Jesus in Bethlehem, and when John the Baptist baptized him in the River Jordan. The Roman Catholic and Protestant churches emphasize the visit of the Magi when they celebrate the Epiphany. The Eastern Orthodox churches focus on Jesus’ baptism.” (Emphasis added.) Read entire…

While I come from a tradition which doesn’t differentiate the wise men’s visit from Christmas, I love the idea of celebrating the revelation of Jesus as God on a special day.

Throughout church history the Epiphany has been a favourite subject of biblical artists. Last year the Museum of Biblical Art (New York, NY) hosted an exhibit of an ancient altar piece depicting the events of Epiphany. The three sections of the piece “The Adoration of the Magi” by Bartolo di Fredi (1340-1410) were on loan from Italy, Germany, and another museum in the U.S.

"Adoration of the Magi" - Bartolo di Fredi
“Adoration of the Magi” – Bartolo di Fredi – (Wikipedia Commons)

It’s one thing to gaze casually at such a work of art, another to study it with a view to gaining a deeper understanding of the event depicted and perhaps the artist who created it.

To help with such a study the museum posted on its website a (pdf) Family Guide to the exhibition. In addition to explaining the history of the painter and this work of art, the guide also points out interesting aspects of the painting.

The adoring posture and gaze of the visitors, along with one of their crowns at Mary’s feet (something I noticed only after reading the guide) help us feel the worship of these kings and join in, even as we are aware of what an amazing thing it is to see grand men of luxury, power, and state worshiping a mere baby.

Below are more artistic depictions of the Epiphany. What do they add to your understanding and enjoyment of, and participation in the story?

(For additional insight [and another Epiphany painting] check out “A Sonnet for Epiphany” – by Malcolm Guite, one of the poems from his newly released book Sounding the Seasons.)

Wise men on camels
Wise men – Artist Unknown
"Epiphany" - Hieronymus Bosch
“Epiphany” – Hieronymus Bosch
"Adoration of the Wise Men" - Botticelli
“Adoration of the Wise Men” – Botticelli
"Epiphany"- Fernando Gallego
“Epiphany” – Fernando Gallego (from Wiki Commons)
"Epiphany" - Artist Unknown
“Epiphany” – Artist Unknown
"Epiphany" - Crreggio
“Epiphany” – Correggio

3 thoughts on “Emotion of Epiphany depicted through art”

  1. Thank you for sharing these incredible paintings!

    During my retreat in the fall, I began reading Esther deWaal’s book “Lost in Wonder” and was thrilled with her thoughts on imagination, icons, images, et. For example, she writes, “The longer we stay with an image and dialogue with it, the more it will yield up… a symbol should go on deepening… Images are “footholds’ into a truth that cannot be expressed fully in words… they speak of another life running in us like an underground river – a current, always present, never quite seen exerting influence on us lapping quietly on our dry ground. Rich things from which things grow…The imagination, images, icons, poetry, silence, all bring me to reclaim mystery and above all ‘ the reality and freshness of God as Mystery’…’Lost in wonder’…means that if I am lost, even just for one tiny instant, I am carried out of myself, experiencing something beyond myself.”

    “You do not have to
    Look for anything, just
    You do not have to
    Listen for specific
    Sounds, just
    You do not have to
    Accomplish anything, just
    And in the looking, and the
    Listening, and the
    Being, find
    — Ann Lewin


  2. Thanks so much, Laurel! Your comments and quotes add another whole layer of what it means to ponder and meditate on something, especially the grand themes and events of the Bible. That Esther De Waal quote is powerful and moving, as is the poem.

    Having grown up in a church with little to no liturgy, I find liturgical writings and art rich and thought-provoking, just like Ms. De Waal says: “footholds’ into a truth that cannot be expressed fully in words…” though one does try. Her book sounds like one I would like to read.

    Hope this new year finds you well, my friend!


  3. What a wonderful post! I’m glad to have found your blog. I am sharing this post on my Carrot Top Studio Clergy Stole Facebook page today at 11:45 a.m. EST. If you are not ok with that I will remove it.

    Liked by 1 person

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