On Sunday, January 6th, the church celebrates Epiphany. Timeanddate.com 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.
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 – Artist Unknown
“Epiphany” – Hieronymus Bosch
“Adoration of the Wise Men” – Botticelli
“Epiphany” – Artist Unknown
“Epiphany” – Correggio