An Advent Calendar – 18

‘Another Magus’ –

This is Melchior. I know this, because we have met Balthazar already, and tomorrow we will meet Casper – both of their names are included on the painting. Melchior’s is not, but by a process of elimination… He is arguably the most stylishly dressed of the three, but I make that assertion purely on the basis of one item of clothing: red tights. I consider these to have been the must-have fashion item for the well-dressed man in the late 15th/early 16th Centuries, and I’m sure I’ve mentioned the fact before (see Day 4 – Tobias and the Angel).

Like Balthazar, Melchior has two courtiers by his side, each of whom wears dark blue, edging on the darkest turquoise, and the same light olive green worn by Balthazar’s servant. Maybe green and dark blue are Melchior’s colours. Of the two, the one on the right is the more servile (would that be the right word for ‘the most obviously like a servant’?), as he holds the hilt of a very elaborate sword – presumably Melchior’s – and a pink cloak, which is presumably his own. He wears a matching pink hat, which, to my mind, qualifies for the description ‘jaunty’. He is also sporting quite wonderful light blue and white striped tights, which are only just visible. To our left of Melchior the other courtier wears plain white tights, with a green garter, the same colour as the crown of his hat, which is then surrounded by a turban-like brim made of flouncy white fabric, just like the sleeves of his shirt. Melchior wears a long sleeved cloak in cloth of gold, the sleeves reaching almost to the ground, cut to allow him to use his arms, and then tied with black laces at the elbow, below the hands, and at a level with his shins. It is lined with ermine – another clue that he is royalty.

His jacket is quite fabulous. Panels of green fabric lie on top of pink, with the hem of each panel trimmed with pearls. The bottom hem drips with gold ornaments, into each of which is set another pearl. They didn’t have lycra back then, so the knees of the tights are slightly baggy, but not too much – nothing undignified here.

Like Balthazar, Melchior wears a hat and a crown. The hat is red, conical, and topped with a gold tassel. It has a broad brim at the front and at the back, where it is turned up to reveal a blue lining. The brim is decorated in a similar way to the hem of the jacket, with smaller gold pendants and plenty more pearls. Like Balthazar’s, the crown is a gold ring, although more elaborately wrought, but with equivalent tynes set with jewels. His courtiers seem distracted – they pay little attention to the Baby Jesus, if anything looking the wrong way completely. This could be due to overcrowding – and the two faces on the far right, one fairly swarthy, but partly hidden, and another, just the edge of a profile, imply that there is a crush of people trying to get closer (the right side of this detail is the very edge of the painting). The servant in the pink hat could easily be the brother of Balthazar’s servant – although not quite so blonde, and with less lustrous and less curly hair. His attention is presumably taken up by the man in profile, who has rested his hand lightly on his shoulder. The turbaned man on horseback holds what appears to be a war hammer – there are several of these in the Wallace Collection (click on the link if you’d like to see what they look like), and I suppose you’d need to be on your guard making such a long journey. Maybe this is a body guard, or equivalent. I’m intrigued that his horse is one of only three beings in the painting who appear to be aware of our presence – it is definitely looking at us – the others being the hidden angel, and someone we haven’t met yet. I doubt this has any significance, but it does help to keep us involved.

If we are to judge by appearances, I don’t know where Melchior is supposed to be from – but let’s think about that tomorrow when we meet Casper. Have a great day – it’s only a week until Christmas!

Published by drrichardstemp

I talk about art...

4 thoughts on “An Advent Calendar – 18

  1. Great post, esp. those wonderful details about the red tights and those amazing blue and white striped tights. Can you tell us please what is that elaborate gold thing that Melchior is holding in his outstretched hand? Is it a container for myrrh?


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