Flask with the Adoration of the Magi

Date: 500s

Culture: Byzantine

Medium: Silver, silver-gilt

Dimensions: Overall: 12 3/8 x 3 7/8 in. (31.5 x 9.9 cm)

Classification: Metalwork-Silver

Credit Line: Purchase, Frederick C. Hewitt Fund, by exchange; Rogers Fund and Schimmel Foundation Inc. Gift; Gifts of J. Pierpont Morgan, Mr. and Mrs. Marc B. Rojtman, Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller Jr., Lucy W. Drexel and Anonymous, by exchange; Bequests of Mary Stillman Harkness, George Blumenthal, Gwynne M. Andrews and Michael Dreicer, by exchange; Theodore M. Davis Collection, Bequest of Theodore M. Davis, by exchange; Rogers Fund, by exchange; and The Cloisters Collection, by exchange, 1984

Accession Number: 1984.196


In the varied depictions of the events of the life of Christ that appear in the art of the early church, some have details that later were omitted from the more usual narratives of the event. Here the three Magi come to offer their gifts to the Christ Child sitting upright in his mother's lap. Her high-backed latticework chair resembles those holding the seated figures, including Christ, on the "Antioch Chalice," a work close in date. Above the Christ Child is the star described in the Gospel of Matthew (2:1–12) as having led the three wise men to Christ. In addition, the archangel Gabriel is shown dramatically striding forward presenting the three Magi with their gifts to the Christ Child. The archangel is described as their guide only in the Armenian Infancy Gospel, a popular early text elaborating the gospel descriptions of Christ's early life. At the base of the flask are phoenixes, birds whose legendary rebirth from the ashes of a fire may have been meant to symbolize the salvation offered by Christ's birth. With its unusual iconography, or imagery, this work may have been used by any of the Christian communities in the East.