Anything Missing in the Standard Depiction of the Three Kings?
The Three Kings visiting the Christ child have been a popular subject in paintings throughout the centuries.
The Three Kings are depicted in very similar ways.
The similarities extend even to details. For example, in painting after painting, one of the kings is kissing Jesus’s toe!
Even when the kissing of the toe is omitted, the king is at least crownless and kneeling.
This design persists even when anachronisms, such as stirrups, and fanciful elements, such as monkeys, enter the depiction.
The standard depiction thus becomes a stable communication that makes any variation from it significant. These painters aren’t only imitating one another, but commenting on one another through the details they omit or add.
For example, the crowd around the kings is usually depicted as attentive to the baby, but Botticelli make the three kings difficult to find in a crowd of people who are looking everywhere but at the incarnation of the Word of God.
By varying from the standard depiction, Botticelli emphasizes his meaning. These paintings are in dialogue with one another, and therefore require some knowledge on the part of the viewer to interpret them.
* Orlando Bartro is the author of Toward Two Words, a comical novel about a man who finds yet another woman he never knew, available at Amazon. He is currently writing two new novels and a play.