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Panel from the altarpiece of the chancel of Viseu Cathedral (1501-1506), alluding to the theme of the Adoration of the Magi.
The replacement of the traditional black Magus king, Balthazar, with a Brazilian Indian is the iconographic detail that has most contributed to the popularity of this panel. In fact, this is the first representation of the figure of the Indian in western art, taking place one or two years after the discovery of Brazil.
Located in the centre of the composition, Balthazar is wearing a costume in which traditional European influences - the shirt and the shorts - are mixed with the exotic novelty of a feather headdress, as well as countless necklaces of coloured beads, thick gold bracelets on the wrists and ankles, white coral earrings, feather trimmings similar to that of the headdress, on the neck and fringe of the bodice, and a Tupinambá arrow with its long shaft. He is also holding a bowl made of coconuts mounted on silver, which reinforces the exotic nature of the painting as a whole.
The insertion of such a figure into a religious context as important as that of the Adoration of the Magi fundamentally presupposed the idea of the conversion to Christianity of the inhabitants of the newly-discovered continent, according to the suggestions made in the letter written by Pêro Vaz de Caminha, in which he speaks of their social primitivism and their ethical readiness to receive the Christian message.
It should also be noted that the Child is holding a gold coin in his left hand, in an allusion to the suggestion to the longstanding desire for wealth associated with the Portuguese Discoveries.
Originally placed in the second row of the altarpiece, this panel illustrates an investment in the meticulous realism of the details, in the Flemish style: the texture of the richly adorned brocade of the king on his knees, in the foreground; the brightness of the metals; the descriptive accuracy of the hut, which, in addition to the traditional animals, also contains a clay pot and a lighted candle; the treatment given to the display of the vegetation and architecture in the background.

Details

  • Title: Adoration of the Magi
  • Creator: Vasco Fernandes, Francisco Henriques
  • Date Created: 1501-1506
  • Physical Location: Grâo Vasco Nacional Museum, Viseu, Portugal
  • Location Created: Panel of the altarpiece of the main chapel of the Cathedral of Viseu
  • Physical Dimensions: 131 cm x 81 cm
  • Type: Painting
  • Medium: Oil on oak wood

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