MS M.917/945, pp. 236–237

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Adoration of the Magi

The Netherlands, Utrecht
ca. 1440
7 1/2 x 5 1/8 inches (192 x 130 mm)

Purchased on the Belle da Costa Greene Fund with the assistance of the Fellows, 1963

MS M.917/945, pp. 236–237

The Three Magi rarely appear in Suffrages. Their prominent position in Catherine's book probably derived from the proximity of Cologne, whose cathedral proudly preserved their relics in a glorious shrine. The eldest magus kneels before baby Jesus offering gold, toward which the child lunges. The second king points to the star that guided them. Waiting his turn is the third magus, who as the youngest is the most fashionably dressed. The deep landscape alludes to their long journey. In the border is Catherine's rosary composed of luxurious coral beads, gold ornaments, and pearls. The letters embroidered on the little purse have been interpreted as CD for Catherina Duxissa (Catherine the Duchess).


Suffrages are short prayers to individual saints. As protectors of medieval people, saints were their doctor in plague, their midwife at childbirth, their guardian when traveling, and their nurse during toothache. If the Virgin was the figure to whom one addressed the all-important petition for eternal salvation, it was from saints that one sought more basic or temporal kinds of help. While the Virgin became, as the Mother of God, almost a goddess herself, saints retained more of their humanity and thus their approachability.


Image courtesy of Faksimile Verlag Luzern