In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking “where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observe his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage”.
Matthew 2:1-12

Emil Nolde, “Adoration of the Magi”

In many of his paintings Nolde addresses “religious problematics” (which in reality is just human existentially spiritual sensibility). “Adoration of the Magi” is one example among many others. We see three Magi behind the Mary with baby-Christ and the children full of healthy curiosity about the infant-god who is just born. The black Magi on the left is with an astonished sad eyes. Why is he so startled – why the small baby Christ made him so struck? In between two Magi we see the angelic baby who cannot take away his cheerful eyes from the infant Christ. His amazed eyes, flame-like hair and joyful smile telling us that he seems to… recognized baby-Christ as someone like a close relative – he is, as if welcoming him into a brotherhood with himself and everybody else. His intuition seems to have grasped that infant-god and the human baby are close relatives – they look… identically.

But let’s look at Mary. Her particular love for her son, a way of worshipping him is concentrated on his head and face. He for her is not just her baby, but an exceptional child, about whom the world talks with admiration and hope. To the left from her we see the Magi occupying a large, second after Mary and her Son, place in the painting. He is, as if, asking Mary to let him keep the precious baby for a while near his heart, while the central Magi is waiting for his turn.

The human eyes looking at or dreaming to see the baby-Christ are the main subject in the painting. Children-angels’ curious, hopeful and cheerful gazes, the shocked gaze of the black Magi in disbelief that baby-Christ is somehow not black (as he expected him to be), and Mary and the main Magi looking at the godly baby with semi-closed eyes (Mary because of the power of her feelings for Him, and the Magi because of reverie and awe – he cannot dare to allow himself direct open gaze: his humility prevents him from staring).

Emil Nolde, “Adoration of the Magi” (2)

In another version of “Adoration of the Magi” Nolde masterfully changes the accents, trying to follow life in its versatility and multifaceted-ness. Here, tired and exhausted from having given birth Mary uses the moment to rest from her constant vigilance over the baby. She finally gave her baby to the Magi to adore and worship. The face of the one who keeps the baby-Jesus – expresses a solemn awareness of the preciousness of the baby. But the other Magi also wants to hold the precious child. He is greedily looking at him, as if, wanting to remember him forever, as if, to imprint his saintliness on his soul. The third Magi (in the upper left corner of the painting) – is observing the whole scene including Mary-the mother from a solemn distance.

Still, behind the two Magi holding the baby we notice the monstrous presence of a giant shadowy (animalistic) figure which, it looks, personifies the horrible danger for Jesus’s future and terrifying waiting tragedy for the Christian world.

Emil Nolde, “Adoration of the Magi” (3)

Nolde‘s third work on the same topic represents Mary’s completely different position towards her Son. We see her as a feminine, tender, playful and a happy mother who is proud of her baby’s healthy body and admires his innocence and curiosity towards the world. Are the five angel-children meant to represent future Jesus’s disciples?

The two Magi looking at the infant-Christ with so over-attentive gazes, that they, as if, trying to take with themselves the glorious image of a humanistic god of the poor and the pure souls who are alien to corruption tend to subdue the predatory hunters for wealth, resources and power.