The three magi bringing frankincense, gold, and myrrh to the newborn Jesus are represented in scrupulously detailed, luxurious dress across this altarpiece’s three panels. On the left, Melchior wears a silk frock embroidered with gilded metal thread. In the center, Caspar’s fur pelt and dangling sleeves contrast with Mary and Joseph’s plain draperies. On the right, Balthazar sports colorful tights and slashed sleeves under a coat lined in leopard’s fur.
Six variations of this painting were produced. The Capodimonte triptych is the original, largest, and best preserved. In Antwerp’s booming merchant economy, the Adoration of the Magi was an especially popular subject. Birth and baptismal records indicate that the city’s newborn boys were often named after the three magi, in hopes that they might became wealthy traders of the beautiful textiles seen in paintings like Van Cleve’s.