1Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,2Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. 3When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born 5And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet, 6And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel. 7Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared.8And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.
9When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. 10When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. 11And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh.12And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.Breughel the younger, I love the Breughels paintings, they are so full of charm. They seem to give a real picture of the world in which they were painted. The wise men are over there in the left corner. I like the architecture in there. The magi were probably Zoroastrian priests who were into astronomy. The magi root was also used to create the word magic. so they may have been "sorcerers". Only later did tradition make them three, one for each described gift, name them, and call them kings.
Above is an adoration by Pellegrino Tibaldi, I can't even tell if these guys are shepherds, magi or the Village People. It looks like a tag team match in a professional wrestling broadcast. And those damned putti are up in the top of the frame with the roll of Charmin again! Weird. There is an interesting parallelogram opening leading to the virgin Mary who might otherwise be lost in the writhing tangle of bodies. It looks like a bait shop in there.
This piece from the Prado in Madrid by Fray Juan Bautista Maino a Spanish artist has the star shing down and its easy to tell who the Magi are, by there robes and actions. The Christ Child is presented as being older which fits the description of young child as in the passage above. This is not the evening of Christs birth but later. In popular tradition though we expect the Shepherds and the Magi on the same stage at once. Squint way down, that's a good way to simplify a painting , look at it through your eyelashes. Do you see a big X shape drawing your eye to the head of the King in the white turban and the Christ child? There are a number of lines radiating out from that point, there is no doubt where you are supposed to find the baby in this painting. And everybodies got their pants on! To my mind this is a far more effective painting than the bath house follies above it.
I think the upper picture the artists purpose is to show off how well he can do figures. In the lower painting the artist wants to tell the story, in an effective and coherent way. He gives to the viewer rather than trying to impress them with what a great artist he is. I see the same problem out there today when I look in some of the contemporary art magazines. I think the painter should care for the viewer, that makes it picturemaking. If you are only out to make something to impress them, your painting may say nothing but,"I am SO cool". The occasional "I am so cool" painting is OK, but most people don't want a steady diet of them. They want to receive a visual gift, get something of value, be nurtured or see something beautiful, see a story, or reflect on some deep sympathy that we all hold . I think picturemaking is very important. When people ask me what I do for a living I respond "I paint pictures".