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Adoration of the Magi

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    England (made)

  • Date:

    second half 15th century (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Carved, painted and gilt alabaster

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Dr W. L. Hildburgh FSA

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

The Gospel of Matthew records how three wise men or Magi came from the East to present gold, frankincense and myrrh to the infant Christ, guided by a miraculous star. Later traditions transformed them into the Three Kings shown here.

The ox and ass were traditionally included in images in reference to Isaiah's prophesy, 'The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib.'

Physical description

The Virgin, haloed and wearing a fillet on her head, a tight-fitting gown and a cloak, sits up on a bed on the right of the panel, under a canopy, with two cushions behind her. She looks down at the naked figure of the Christ Child whom she holds sitting on her lap. His right hand is raised in blessing, his left reaches to touch the gold coins in a chalice-like cup held in the left hand of Gaspar, who has a curly beard. He wears a tippet and gown and kneels on his left leg at the foot of the bed, a crown held in his right hand. The crowned and beardless Balthasar, wearing a tippet and gown stands behind him, his head inclined to the right, holding a similar cup with a lid in his right hand. He points with his left hand towards the star carved on the bed canopy. The crowned and bearded Melchior, the third king, wears a belted gown, tippet and cloak and, holding a boat-shaped container in his left hand, looks back at him, his right hand outstretched, pointing towards the star. The bearded St. Joseph, wearing a gown and hood, sits asleep on the ground in the lower right of the panel, resting his head on his hand, supported by a cross-staff, held between his knees by his left hand. The ox and the ass are feeding from a wicker manger next to him.

The top centre and the top corners of the panel are chipped. There is a hole through the panel near the Virgin's halo. The panel is cracked across the top right corner. Green paint and the usual daisy pattern remain on the ground at the bottom of the panel. Gilding remains on the figures, especially on the hair and fillet of the Virgin, on the star and on the crowns of the three Magi. The Virgin's halo is painted red; folds in the garments of the figures are also red. The ox is a reddish-brown colour; the ass is greyish. The top background of the panel is gilt.

The back of the panel is marked with three parallel lines crossed by a diagonal line. There are four lead-plugged holes, two bearing traces of latten wires. The bottom has been cut away.

Place of Origin

England (made)


second half 15th century (made)



Materials and Techniques

Carved, painted and gilt alabaster

Marks and inscriptions

3 parallel lines crossed by a diagonal line.
On the back of the panel.; incising


Height: 41.7 cm, Width: 26 cm

Object history note

Formerly in Spain. In the possession of P. Nelson from whom it was acquired by Dr W.L. Hildburgh. On loan from him since 1926. Given by Dr Hildburgh in 1946.

Historical significance: This panel is a mirror-image of the usual composition, the Virgin normally being seated on the left of the panel.

Descriptive line

Alabaster panel depicting the Adoration of the Magi. English, second half of 15th century.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Cheetham, Francis. English Medieval Alabasters. Oxford: Phaidon-Christie's Limited, 1984. p. 186 (cat. 113), ill. ISBN 0-7148-8014-0


Alabaster; Paint; Gilt


Carving; Painting; Gilding

Subjects depicted

Ass; Ox; Cup; Crown; Staff; Gown; Coin; Halo; Tippet; Hood; Cushion; Canopy; Star; Cloak; Bed


Christianity; Religion; Sculpture


Sculpture Collection

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