The Journey of the Magi

Sassetta (Stefano di Giovanni) Italian

This scene, by the leading painter of fifteenth-century Siena, shows the three magi journeying to Bethlehem to worship Christ. It is a fragment from a small altarpiece showing the Adoration of the Magi. Originally, the star was shown above the tiled roof of the stable. The fur-lined hat worn by the magus in pink was inspired by the visit to Siena in 1432 of King Sigismund of Hungary. The picture may date about 1433–35. For more information about this painting and the other panel from the altarpiece, visit

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 956

Public Domain

Object Details

Artist: Sassetta (Stefano di Giovanni) (Italian, Siena or Cortona ca. 1400–1450 Siena)

Date: ca. 1433–35

Medium: Tempera and gold on wood

Dimensions: 8 1/2 x 11 3/4 in. (21.6 x 29.8 cm)

Classification: Paintings

Credit Line: Maitland F. Griggs Collection, Bequest of Maitland F. Griggs, 1943

Accession Number: 43.98.1

Painted by the leading Sienese painter Sassetta (baptized name Stefano di Giovanni; Sassetta is first used in the eighteenth century), this small panel is a fragment from the upper half of a larger composition that showed the Journey and Adoration of the Magi. The lower portion (31.1 x 38.3 cm) is in the Chigi Saracini collection, Siena, and shows the Adoration of the Magi; the two were reunited in the Metropolitan Museum in 1989 (see fig. 1 above). Details in the main portion of the composition, such as the two female servants, were inspired by Gentile da Fabriano's celebrated altarpiece of 1423, painted for the Strozzi Chapel in Santa Trinita, Florence (Galleria degli Uffizi), but Sassetta has transformed his source into a highly original work, with particular attention paid to figures and horses viewed from the back, and costumes—especially the fur-lined hat worn by one of the magi—inspired by the visit to Siena in 1432 of King Sigismund of Hungary. A date of about 1433–35 seems likely. It has been suggested that the patron of this small altarpiece may have been someone involved with the imperial visit who was rewarded by being made count palatinate (De Marchi 2010). This would explain the chivalric slant Sassetta gives the subject.

Keith Christiansen 2010
chevalier Franchi (until 1829; sale, Christie's, London, May 22, 1829, no. 155, as by Pinturicchio, to Rogers); Samuel Rogers, London (1829–d. 1855; his estate sale, Christie's, London, May 3, 1856, no. 639, as by Pinturicchio, for £13.2.6 to Davenport Bromley); Rev. Walter Davenport Bromley, Wooten Hall, Ashbourne, Derbyshire (1856–d. 1862; sale, Christie's, London, June 12, 1863, no. 33, as by Gentile da Fabriano, for £24.3.0 to Monckton Milnes); Richard Monckton Milnes, 1st Baron Houghton, London (1863–d. 1885); his son, Robert Offley Ashburton Crewe-Milnes, 2nd Baron Houghton, later Marquess of Crewe, Crewe House, London (1885–at least 1914, as by Paolo Uccello; sold to Douglas); [R. Langton Douglas, London; sold to Hutton]; [Edward Hutton, London, until 1925; sold to Griggs]; Maitland F. Griggs, New York (1925–d. 1943)
New York. M. Knoedler & Co. "Loan Exhibition of Primitives," February 1929, no. 19 (lent by Mr. Maitland Fuller Griggs).

London. Royal Academy of Arts. "Italian Art, 1200–1900," January 1–March 8, 1930, no. 64 (lent by F. Maitland Griggs [sic], New York) [commemorative ed., 1931, no. 88].

Hartford, Conn. Wadsworth Atheneum and Morgan Memorial. "Retrospective Exhibition of Landscape Painting," January 20–February 9, 1931, no. 2 (as "Procession of the Magi").

Detroit Institute of Arts. "The Sixteenth Loan Exhibition of Old Masters: Italian Paintings of the XIV to XVI Century," March 8–30, 1933, no. 49a (lent by Mr. F. Maitland Griggs [sic], New York).

Art Institute of Chicago. "A Century of Progress," June 1–November 1, 1933, no. 94.

New York. Century Association. "Italian Paintings of the Renaissance," March 2–24, 1935, no. 15.

Cleveland Museum of Art. "Twentieth Anniversary Exhibition," June 26–October 4, 1936, no. 145.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Christmas Exhibition," 1938, no catalogue [see Zeri and Gardner 1980].

Cambridge, Mass. Fogg Museum of Art. "The Horse: Its Significance in Art," April 20–May 21, 1938, no. 1.

New York. World's Fair. "Masterpieces of Art: European Paintings and Sculpture from 1300–1800," May–October 1939, no. 349.

New York. M. Knoedler & Co. "Loan Exhibition in Honour of Royal Cortissoz," December 1–20, 1941, no. 2.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Maitland F. Griggs Collection," Winter 1944, no catalogue.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Art Treasures of the Metropolitan," November 7, 1952–September 7, 1953, no. 74.

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. "Masterpieces of Painting in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," September 16–November 1, 1970, unnumbered cat. (p. 13).

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Masterpieces of Fifty Centuries," November 15, 1970–February 15, 1971, no. 181.

Siena. Palazzo Chigi-Saracini. "Sassetta e i pittori toscani tra XIII e XV secolo," October 11, 1986–February 28, 1987, no. 12.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Painting in Renaissance Siena: 1420–1500," December 20, 1988–March 19, 1989, no. 2a.

Fabriano. Spedale di Santa Maria del Buon Gesù. "Gentile da Fabriano e l'altro Rinascimento," April 21–July 23, 2006, no. VII.1a.

Roger Fry. "'The Journey of the Three Kings' by Sassetta." Burlington Magazine 22 (December 1912), p. 131, ill. opp. p. 131 (color), as in the collection of the Marchioness of Crewe; states that it has traditionally been attributed to Paolo Uccello, but that it is unmistakably by Sassetta.

Tancred Borenius, ed. A History of Painting in Italy: Umbria, Florence, and Siena from the Second to the Sixteenth Century.. By J[oseph]. A[rcher]. Crowe and G[iovanni]. B[attista]. Cavalcaselle. Vol. 5, Umbrian and Sienese Masters of the Fifteenth Century. London, 1914, p. 170 n. 1 (from p. 169), lists it as by Sassetta, in the collection of the Marchioness of Crewe.

Richard Offner. Letter. August 11, 1925 [transcript of letter in archive file], attributes it to Sassetta.

Bernard Berenson. Letter. 1925 [see Ref. Zeri and Gardner 1980], suggests that it belonged to the predella of an altarpiece attributed to Sassetta at Asciano.

Raimond van Marle. The Development of the Italian Schools of Painting. Vol. 9, Late Gothic Painting in Tuscany. The Hague, 1927, p. 340, fig. 214.

Helen Comstock. "Paintings by Sassetta in America." International Studio 88 (October 1927), pp. 39, 41, ill. p. 37 (color).

Emilio Cecchi. Trecentisti senesi. Rome, 1928, pp. 117–18, 146, pl. CCXLVI [English ed., 1931, pp. 139, 165, pl. CCXLVI].

Alfred Scharf in Unknown Masterpieces in Public and Private Collections. Ed. Wilhelm R. Valentiner. Vol. 1, London, 1930, unpaginated, no. 4, ill., calls it "The Procession of the Three Kings"; identifies it as a predella panel from the polyptych of "The Birth of the Virgin" at the Collegiata in Asciano [see Ref. Berenson 1925]; calls it one of Sassetta's earliest works and dates it about 1430.

Tancred Borenius. "Pictures from American Collections at Burlington House." Apollo 11 (March 1930), p. 155, fig. II, calls it part of the Asciano polyptych, which he dates about 1430.

Exhibition of Italian Art, 1200–1900. Exh. cat., Royal Academy of Arts. London, 1930, pp. 61–62, no. 64 [commemorative ed., 1931, vol. 1, p. 31, no. 88; vol. 2, pl. XXXII], identifies the arch in the background as the Porta Romana in Siena.

Lionello Venturi. Pitture italiane in America. Milan, 1931, unpaginated, pl. CXIV.

Bernhard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance. Oxford, 1932, p. 513.

Piero Misciattelli. "Le pitture senesi del Museo Fogg." La Diana 7, no. 3 (1932), p. 198.

Paolo d'Ancona et al. L'arte italiana. Vol. 2, Il rinascimento. Florence, [1932?], p. 65, fig. 160.

Lionello Venturi. Italian Paintings in America. Vol. 1, Romanesque and Gothic. New York, 1933, unpaginated, pl. 143.

Marialuisa Gengaro. "Il primitivo del Quattrocento senese: Stefano di Giovanni detto il 'Sassetta'." La Diana 8, no. 1 (1933), pp. 17, 25.

Hans Tietze. Meisterwerke europäischer Malerei in Amerika. Vienna, 1935, p. 325, pl. 36a [English ed., "Masterpieces of European Painting in America," New York, 1939, p. 309, pl. 36a].

[F. Mason] Perkins in Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler. Ed. Hans Vollmer. Vol. 29, Leipzig, 1935, p. 482.

Bernhard Berenson. Pitture italiane del rinascimento. Milan, 1936, p. 441.

Alfred M. Frankfurter. "The Maitland F. Griggs Collection." Art News 35 (May 1, 1937), p. 156, ill. p. 28 (color).

John Pope-Hennessy. Sassetta. London, 1939, pp. 77–80, 93 n. 51, pp. 150, 209, pl. XIV A, rejects its connection with the Asciano polyptych [see Ref. Berenson 1925], identifying it as the upper part of "The Adoration of the Magi" in the Chigi-Saracini collection, Siena; dates this work between 1432 and 1436.

Margaret Breuning. "Metropolitan Re-Installs Its Treasures in Attractive Settings." Art Digest 18 (June 1, 1944), p. 26.

Francis Henry Taylor. "The Maitland F. Griggs Collection." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 2 (January 1944), ill. p. 155.

Harry B. Wehle. "The Journey of the Magi." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 3 (December 1944), pp. 96–97, ill. (overall, and color detail on cover), accepts Pope-Hennessy's [see Ref. 1939] reconstruction of this picture as the top half of the "Adoration of the Magi" in the Chigi-Saracini collection, Siena.

Herbert Friedmann. The Symbolic Goldfinch: Its History and Significance in European Devotional Art. Washington, 1946, pp. 36–37, 74, 90, 118, 155, pl. 90 (detail), identifies the two birds in the right foreground as goldfinches.

Bernard Berenson. Sassetta, un peintre siennois de la légende franciscaine. Paris, 1948, p. 54, fig. 40.

Millia Davenport. The Book of Costume. New York, 1948, vol. 1, colorpl. 1 (cropped).

Cesare Brandi. Quattrocentisti senesi. Milan, 1949, pp. 55, 190 n. 33, p. 252, pl. 61, accepts the connection with the Chigi-Saracini panel [see Ref. Pope-Hennessy 1939].

Art Treasures of the Metropolitan: A Selection from the European and Asiatic Collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1952, p. 223, no. 74, colorpl. 74.

Josephine L. Allen and Elizabeth E. Gardner. A Concise Catalogue of the European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1954, p. 89.

Herbert Friedmann. "Symbolic Meanings in Sassetta's 'Journey of the Magi'." Gazette des beaux-arts, 6th ser., 48 (December 1956), pp. 143–56, ill. (overall and details), along with the goldfinches [see Ref. Friedmann 1946], identifies cranes, ostriches, and a falcon in this painting, and discusses the symbolism of these birds.

John Pope-Hennessy. "Rethinking Sassetta." Burlington Magazine 98 (October 1956), p. 366, dates it after Sassetta's Saint Francis altarpiece made for Sansepolcro (1437–44), reversing the dating he proposed in Ref. 1939.

Enzo Carli. Sassetta e il Maestro dell'Osservanza. Milan, 1957, pp. 42, 44, 46, 120–21, 127, colorpl. XVII, pl. 9a, accepts the connection with the Chigi-Saracini Adoration; dates it about 1428–29.

A. Hyatt Mayor. "The Gifts that Made the Museum." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 16 (November 1957), p. 106.

Federico Zeri. "Un appunto su Bartolo di Fredi." Paragone no. 151 (July 1962), pp. 55–56, compares it with a fragment by Bartolo di Fredi depicting the Journey of the Magi (Musée des Beaux-Arts, Dijon) that was once part of the Adoration of the Magi in the MMA (Lehman Collection, 1975.1.16).

Augusta Monferini. Sassetta. Milan, 1965, unpaginated, fig. 3, accepts the connection with the Chigi-Saracini Adoration, dates the work 1428–29, and relates it to Gentile da Fabriano's Strozzi altarpiece (Uffizi, Florence).

Mario Salmi. Il palazzo e la collezione Chigi-Saracini. Siena, 1967, pp. 61, 63–64, 67, fig. 41 (reconstruction), accepts the connection with the Chigi-Saraceni Adoration and tentatively suggests that the work originally had a circular format; dates it shortly after the San Martino Crucifix of 1433.

Bernard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: Central Italian and North Italian Schools. London, 1968, vol. 1, p. 386; vol. 2, pl. 551, lists it as a fragment, and companion to the Chigi-Saracini Adoration.

Giustina Scaglia. "An Allegorical Portrait of Emperor Sigismund by Mariano Taccola of Siena." Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 31 (1968), p. 433, dates it 1432–33, during Sigismund of Luxembourg's stay in Siena on his way to Rome to be crowned Holy Roman Emperor; relates the hats of the falconers to headgear worn by Sigismund or members of his retinue and proposes that the eldest king in the Chigi-Saracini Adoration is a portrait of Sigismund himself.

Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972, pp. 183, 272, 608.

Denys Sutton, ed. Letters of Roger Fry. New York, 1972, vol. 1, p. 17, fig. 22, states that Fry was the first to attribute the picture to Sassetta.

Bernard Berenson. Looking at Pictures with Bernard Berenson. Ed. Hanna Kiel. New York, 1974, pp. 90–91, ill. (color).

David Robertson. Sir Charles Eastlake and the Victorian Art World. Princeton, 1978, p. 223, gives information about the Davenport Bromley sale of 1863.

Denys Sutton. "Robert Langton Douglas, Part III, XVII: Dramatic Days." Apollo, n.s., 109 (June 1979), p. 469, fig. 35, states that Douglas bought the picture from Lord Crewe and sold it to Edward Hutton; adds that Douglas was the first to identify it.

Federico Zeri with the assistance of Elizabeth E. Gardner. Italian Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Sienese and Central Italian Schools. New York, 1980, pp. 85–86, pls. 48, 49 (detail), suggest that the relatively small scale of the work (i.e., the combined MMA and Chigi-Saracini panels) indicates that it was meant for private devotion; date it between Sassetta's "Madonna of the Snow" (Contini-Bonacossi Bequest, Florence) of 1430–32 and his Saint Francis altarpiece (National Gallery, London; Villa i Tatti, Florence; and elsewhere) of 1437–44, placing it closer to the latter.

Howard Hibbard. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1980, pp. 222, 229, 232, fig. 397 (color).

Dorothy Lygon and Francis Russell. "Tuscan Primitives in London Sales, 1801–1837." Burlington Magazine 122 (February 1980), pp. 113, 116, give provenance information.

Carlo Volpe in Il gotico a Siena: miniature pitture oreficerie oggetti d'arte. Exh. cat., Palazzo Pubblico, Siena. Florence, 1982, p. 392, rejects Salmi's [see Ref. 1967] suggestion that the painting may originally have had a circular format; dates it after 1430.

Alessandro Angelini in Sassetta e i pittori toscani tra XIII e XV secolo. Exh. cat., Palazzo Chigi-Saracini, Siena. Florence, 1986, pp. 37–43, no. 12, ill. (overall and details in color, and black and white detail) [English ed., 1986], states that the MMA and Chigi-Saracini panels were separated and trimmed on all sides, probably during the nineteenth century; finds no evidence to support Salmi's [see Ref. 1967] proposal that the original format of the work was circular; discusses the influence of Gentile da Fabriano's Strozzi altarpiece (Uffizi, Florence); finds a date in the mid-1430s to be most likely.

Keith Christiansen in Painting in Renaissance Siena: 1420–1500. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1988, pp. 4, 80–81, 83, 115, no. 2a, ill. (black and white and color), states that the Chigi-Saracini panel has not been cropped on the sides and that technical evidence indicates that the top of the MMA panel was shaped; remarks on the influence of Gentile da Fabriano's Strozzi altarpiece of 1423, "which Sassetta would have seen on a trip to Florence prior to 1430"; favors a date of about 1435; relates the picture to the Saint Anthony Abbot series by the Master of the Osservanza (Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven; National Gallery of Art, Washington; Gemäldegalerie, Berlin; and Robert Lehman Collection, MMA).

Andrea De Marchi. Gentile da Fabriano: Un viaggio nella pittura italiana alla fine del gotico. Milan, 1992, pp. 194, 210 n. 27, dates it between 1426 and 1430.

Christopher Lloyd in Alfred Sisley. Ed. Mary Anne Stevens. Exh. cat., Royal Academy of Arts, London. New Haven, 1992, p. 16, fig. 15 [French ed., "Sisley," Paris, p. 24, fig. 15], compares the composition to Sisley's "View of Montmartre" (Musée de Grenoble).

Patricia Harpring. The Sienese Trecento Painter Bartolo di Fredi. Rutherford, N.J., 1993, p. 141, ill. p. 145, believes it was influenced by Bartolo di Fredi's "Adoration of the Magi" of about 1395–1410 in the Pinacoteca Nazionale, Siena.

Max Seidel. "The Social Status of Patronage and its Impact on Pictorial Language in Fifteenth-Century Siena." Italian Altarpieces, 1250–1550: Function and Design. Ed. Eve Borsook and Fiorella Superbi Gioffredi. Oxford, 1994, p. 127.

Katharine Baetjer. European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art by Artists Born Before 1865: A Summary Catalogue. New York, 1995, p. 50, ill.

Michael Kimmelman. "At the Met and the Modern with Jacob Lawrence." New York Times (April 12, 1996), p. C4, ill.

Graham Hughes. Renaissance Cassoni, Masterpieces of Early Italian Art: Painted Marriage Chests 1400–1550. Alfriston, England, 1997, p. 23.

Michael Kimmelman. Portraits: Talking with Artists at the Met, the Modern, the Louvre and Elsewhere. New York, 1998, pp. 208–9, ill. [text similar to Kimmelman 1996].

Carlo Sisi. La collezione Chigi Saracini di Siena: per una storia del collezionismo italiano. Exh. cat., Palazzo Te, Mantua. Florence, 2000, p. 35, dates it about 1435.

Miklós Boskovits in Italian Paintings of the Fifteenth Century. Washington, 2003, pp. 625, 627 n. 16, accepts Scaglia's [see Ref. 1968] identification of the eldest Magi in the Chigi-Saracini fragment as a portrait of Emperor Sigismund of Luxembourg and thus dates the work after July 1432 when the emperor passed through Siena on his way to Rome.

Keith Christiansen et al. in Gentile da Fabriano and the Other Renaissance. Ed. Laura Laureati and Lorenza Mochi Onori. Exh. cat., Spedale di Santa Maria del Buon Gesù, Fabriano. Milan, 2006, pp. 297–99, no. VII.1a, ill. (color) [Italian ed., "Gentile da Fabriano e l'altro Rinascimento"].

Dóra Sallay. "Early Sienese Paintings in Hungarian Collections, 1420–1520." PhD diss., Central European University, Budapest, 2008, p. 178 n. 392, identifies the birds on the hillside at upper left as cranes and relates them to two birds she also identifies as cranes appearing in an "Adoration of the Christ Child" attributed to the workshop of Benvenuto di Giovanni in the Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest.

Luciano Bellosi, ed. La collezione Salini: Dipinti, sculture e oreficerie dei secoli XII, XIII, XIV e XV. Florence, 2009, vol. 1, p. 267.

Machtelt Israëls. "Sassetta and the Guglielmi Piccolomini Altarpiece in Siena." Burlington Magazine 152 (March 2010), pp. 167, 169, dates it about 1433; suggests that it may have been commissioned by Giovanni di Guccio Bichi, a wealthy and powerful Sienese banker who commissioned decorations used during King Sigismund of Luxembourg's visit to Siena in 1432–33 and who was knighted by Sigismund [see Refs. Scaglia 1968 and Boskovits 2003].

Machtelt Israëls in Da Jacopo della Quercia a Donatello: le arti a Siena nel primo rinascimento. Ed. Max Seidel. Exh. cat., Santa Maria della Scala et al., Siena. Milan, 2010, p. 236, under no. C.20.

Old Master & British Paintings: Evening Sale. Christie's, London. December 3, 2013, p. 69.

Marco Spallanzani. Rugs in Late Medieval Siena. Florence, 2014, p. 35, fig. 17 (color, overall and detail), identifies the textile on the back of the mule at lower left as a rug "da soma" (for loads), and notes the monkey sitting on top of it, as in the Master of Lecceto's "King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba" (The Met, 14.44).

Caroline Elam. Roger Fry and Italian Art. London, 2019, pp. 27, 33 n. 58.

This work is a fragment. It was originally the upper part of a painting depicting the Adoration of the Magi. The lower part is in the Chigi-Saracini Collection (Monte dei Paschi), Siena. The two parts were separated some time before 1829, when the MMA panel was sold at auction. The MMA panel has been cut down on all sides; technical evidence indicates that it originally had a shaped top. The Siena panel has also been trimmed at the top, but retains its original width of 38.3 cm, giving some indication of the original appearance of the work.