In the Gospel of Matthew, the three Magi come from the east to visit the baby Jesus, bringing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The three men, also described as wise men and kings, here approach the family with their offerings. The oldest king, Caspar, kneels at Mary’s feet, having already removed his crown in a gesture of humility. The other two kings—Melchior, the middle-aged king, and Balthazar, the young king—stand behind him, flanked by their entourages, including servants, page boys, and animals.
In the western Christian tradition, the Magi are described as the kings of India (Caspar), Persia (Melchior), and Arabia (Balthazar). Despite their eastern origins, Caspar and Melchior are usually depicted as European, while Balthazar is often depicted with darker skin and outfitted in a turban and other “eastern” accessories.
-Kendra Weisbin, Associate Curator of Education, Mount Holyoke College Art Museum (Sept. 2017)