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The Art of JAMA
December 25, 2013

Adoration of the Wise Men: Romare Bearden

JAMA. 2013;310(24):2594-2595. doi:10.1001/jama.2013.5483

As told in the Book of Matthew of the Christian bible, more than 2000 years ago astrologers from the Middle East observed a bright star in the sky and interpreted its appearance to mean that a great leader of the Jews had been born. A fellowship of wise men followed the star to Jerusalem, where they were questioned by Herod, King of Judea. Perceiving a threat to his sovereignty, Herod instructed the wise men to send him word as soon as they found the baby. They located the baby Jesus in the town of Bethlehem and presented him with priceless gifts, but chose not to send word to Herod and went home by another route. When Herod learned that the wise men had betrayed him, he ordered the killing of all the babies in Bethlehem, but Jesus and his family escaped to Egypt, beyond the king’s reach. This foundation story, with its elements of prophesy, intrigue, and the struggle between good and evil, has resonated for centuries with artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Albrecht Dürer, Diego Velázquez, and the American painter Romare Bearden (1911-1988), whose Adoration of the Wise Men is one of 24 paintings in his series, “The Passion of Christ.” In the center of this painting Mary the mother of Jesus cradles her infant in her arms. To either side are the wise men, bending low to offer their gifts. Bearden’s kaleidoscopic composition is reminiscent of stained glass windows and the deconstructed geometry of the French painter Georges Braque.