Today is the eve of Epiphany, 6 January! A day of merrymaking, the 12th Day of Christmas has more than 12 drummers drumming (which apparently refers to the 12 points of doctrine in the Apostle’s creed, within the Christmas carol)… It has Three Kings visiting baby Christ in Bethlehem; Melchior, Gaspar (sometimes known as Caspar) and Balthazar were the Magi or Three Wise Men representing Europe, Arabia and Africa. They arrived on horse, camel and elephant and brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, respectively. Balthazar is one of my favourite names – in fact I used to be a regular at a Keith McNally resto in NY by the same name just as an excuse to enunciate it.
Different cultures give Three Kings Day different rituals. Argentina (and most other Spanish-speaking countries) on the eve of El Día de los Reyes has children polish their shoes and leave them outside their door filled with grass or hay, a bowl of water next to them. The morning of 6 Jan, the shoes are filled with gifts and the bowl’s empty (the camels having eaten the hay and drunk the water). Why shoes, I’m not sure (but why Christmas stockings for us? Must look it up). The French, true to their tummies, have a frangipane-filled Galettes des Rois (almond-paste filled cake that has a little figurine known as la fève (originally a broad bean, or fève). Whoever gets the slice of cake with the fève is king for the day. The president at the Elysée Palace has a Galette des Rois that’s more than a meter in diameter, but it’s without a fève, because it wouldn’t be very fitting to find a King in the presidential palace of the Republic, now would it? In the States Three Kings Day is when you’re supposed to exchange your gifts (though we’ve moved this forward to the Hallmark date of 25 Dec) and is also the day you take down your Christmas tree and decorations.
But we’re getting side tracked here – what is the single most important thing that’s happening in France for the 2013 Three Kings Day? No it’s not that meter-wide, feve-less gâteau at the Elysée, pshah! It’s the Kings + Leaders THATLou, of course! And what is this post devoted to, but one of the treasures that our hunters will be chasing after. Lucky are those that are reading these words, because otherwise they wouldn’t know that Bernardino Luini (1480/82 – 1532)’s fine Adoration of the Magi fresco (seen above) can be found in the Duchatel Room (seen below):
Not a lot is known about Luini, other than that he moved to Milano in 1500 from his small town near Lago Maggiore and that in Milano he was heavily influenced by Leonardo, with whom he worked. One of his signatures is graceful female figures with elongated eyes, which Vladimir Nabokov called “Luiniesque” in La Venezia (1924).
The Duchatel Room (found on the 1st floor of the Denon Wing, off of the Italian Gallery), has been the subject of a handful of interesting articles (This 1915 article seems to be the most comprehensive). The collection was left to the Louvre together, and included the Fra Angelico crucifixion (seen in the photo) as well as two Ingres.
The hunters will get a bit more about the Luini Adoration of the Magi tomorrow (a painting which would also be suitable for a Structure + Space THATLou, so organised is the architecture in the quiet scene). Though not half so well known as Georges de La Tour’s Adoration of the Shepherds, I think it’s twice as attractive!