The Adoration of the Magi, The Master of 1518

The master of 1518 (called Jan van Dornicke)

The Adoration of the Magi


56.3x92.3cm, Oil on panel

With monogram 'AD' (centre panel, centre right)


The term “The Master of 1518” was first used by the specialist of the early art of the Low Countries and an art historian M. J. Friedländer who was inspired by the date inscribed on the painted wings of a carved wooden altarpiece of the life of Virgin Mary in the Marienkirche, Lübeck. Over time a number of works have been grouped under this name. However, it has become evident that this name should not be understood as being a single master but includes a whole workshop active in Antwerp in the first quarter of the 16th century. It is believed that this workshop was led by Jan Mertens van Dornicke (Antwerp ca 1470 – 1527), although this fact has been disputed.

Today the religious scenes by the Master of 1518 are represented in public collections of the Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, USA; the Palais des Beaux-Arts, Lille, France; the Honolulu Museum of Art, Honolulu, USA; the Bonnefantenmuseum, Maastricht, Netherlands; the Royal Museums of Fine Arts, Brussels, Belgium.

The present altarpiece is a very fine, well conserved example of an often repeated composition. Marlier (op.cit.) mentiones 10 other versions. It is close to a version in Museé des Beaux-Arts, Lille and another triptych sold with Christie’s, Paris, 22 June 2005, lot 41.

This triptych with the wooden carved upper part, signed with monogram “AD” on the central panel, is an excellent and well preserved example of one of the most often repeated compositions of those times. The work is close to the version held in the Palace of Fine Arts, Lille, France.

The Gospel of Matthew tells of three Magi of the East who saw the star that predicted the birth of the Messiah. They came to Jerusalem to ask the road to Bethlehem. Reference to the Magi as kings is made in Psalms 72:10 – 11: “(10) May the kings of Tarshish and of distant shores bring tribute to him. May the kings of Sheba and Seba present him gifts. (11) May all kings bow down to him and all nations serve him”. The concept of the adoration of the Magi as kings was developed mostly by the early Christian writer Tertullian (ca 155 – 230). Not only people of all ages (old man, adult and young man) but also all the kings of the world have come to adore Christ. This subject was very popular in European church art, since it asserted the superiority of God (Church) over kingship (monarchy).

The central composition of the painting with its quiet rhythm and majestic figures in the foreground emphasizes the spiritual significance of the depicted event.


Count de Ruffo de Bonneval de la Fare; Fievez, Brussels, 23 May 1900, lot 8, as ‘School of Bernard van Orley’.
Mrs. F. Franchomme.
Mr. Charles van Hove, Brussels
Private collection, Zürich, Switzerland


W.R. Valentiner, Maître de l’Adoration d’Utrecht, 1905, no. 18.
M.J. Friedländer, Jahrbuch der Preussischen Kunstsammlungen, Antwerpener Manieristen von 1520, 1915, pp. 65-91, no. 89.
M.J. Friedländer, Early Netherlandish Paintings, 1974, vol. XI, p. 76, under no. 89.
G. Marlier, Pierre Coeck d’Alost, Brussels, 1966, p. 126, no. 4.


BRAFA 2014
Art Rules, 2015, Tallinn, Estonia
BRAFA 2017

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