The King Who Was Born on Stage

Elvis Aaron Presley was born in Tupelo, Mississippi on January 8th, 1935, but it probably wasn’t until his September 9th, 1956 appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show that America witnessed the birth of “The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.”

 
 

Elvis Presley poses alone with his guitar, behind the scenes during ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ in Los Angeles, Calif., on September 9, 1956.

 
 

Elvis Presley sits in a chair as a make-up artist highlights his lips backstage at ‘The Ed Sullivan Show,’ Los Angeles, California, September 9, 1956

 
 

Elvis Presley making his first appearance on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ in Los Angeles, Calif., on September 9, 1956

 
 

Elvis Presley Rehearsing at the Maxine Elliot Theater, New York, for the Ed Sullivan Show, Photo by Michael Ochs, 6th January, 1957. This was Elvis’ third and final appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show.

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By Following a Star

The Adoration of the Magi (anglicized from the Matthean Vulgate Latin section title: A Magis adoratur) is the name traditionally given to the subject in the Nativity of Jesus in art in which the three Magi, represented as kings, especially in the West, having found Jesus by following a star, lay before him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, and worship him.

It is related in the Bible by Matthew 2:11: “On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another path”.

 
 

Adoration of the Magi. Panel from a Roman sarcophagus, 4th century CE. From the cemetary of St. Agnes in Rome.

 
 

In the earliest depictions, the Magi are shown wearing Persian dress of trousers and Phrygian caps, usually in profile, advancing in step with their gifts held out before them. These images adapt Late Antique poses for barbarians submitting to an Emperor, and presenting golden wreaths, and indeed relate to images of tribute-bearers from various Mediterranean and ancient Near Eastern cultures going back many centuries. The earliest are from catacomb paintings and sarcophagus reliefs of the 4th century. Crowns are first seen in the 10th century, mostly in the West, where their dress had by that time lost any Oriental flavor in most cases.

Occasionally from the 12th century, and very often in Northern Europe from the 15th, the Magi are also made to represent the three known parts of the world: Balthasar is very commonly cast as a young African or Moor, and old Caspar is given Oriental features or, more often, dress. Melchior represents Europe and middle age. From the 14th century onwards, large retinues are often shown, the gifts are contained in spectacular pieces of goldsmith work, and the Magi’s clothes are given increasing attention. By the 15th century, the Adoration of the Magi is often a bravura piece in which the artist can display their handling of complex, crowded scenes involving horses and camels, but also their rendering of varied textures: the silk, fur, jewels and gold of the Kings set against the wood of the stable, the straw of Jesus’s manger and the rough clothing of Joseph and the shepherds.

 
 

The Adoration of the Magi (Arena Chapel), Giotto di Bondone, 1304-1306

 
 

Also by Giotto, 1320

 
 

The Adoration of the Magi, by Fran Angelico, 1433-35

 
 

By Sandro Botticelli, 1475

 
 

Studio per l’adorazione dei magi (Design for The Adoration of the Magi), Leonardo da Vinci, between 1478 and 1481

 
 

Perspectival study of The Adoration of the Magi, circa 1481

 
 

L’adorazione dei magi (The Adoration of the Magi), Leonardo da Vinci, 1481

 
 

Owing to the painting’s unfinished status in 1481, the commission was handed over to Filippino Lippi, who painted another Adoration of the Magi, completed in 1496, in substitution of the one commissioned to Leonardo da Vinci . It is housed in the Uffizi of Florence. Domenico Ghirlandaio, completed a separate painting, expanding upon Leonardo’s theme, in 1488.

 
 

 Adorazione dei magi, (The Adoration of the Magi), Filippino Lippi, 1496

 
 

Much of the composition of this Da Vinci’s painting was influenced by an earlier work of the Northern artist Rogier van der Weyden. The relationship between figures, space and the viewer’s standpoint, the high horizon, slightly raised viewpoint, space receding into the far distance, and a central figural group poised before a rock formation in the middle of the landscape are all copied from van der Weyden’s Entombment of Christ (1460, Uffizi Gallery, Italy).

 
 

Saint Columba Altarpiece (central panel), Rogier van der Weyden, c. 1464–65

 
 

Diego Velázquez, 1619

 
 

Rembrandt, 1634

 
 

Versions by Peter Paul Rubens, from 1617 to 1634

Black Epiphany

“It is a useful art when it is of godly sort and is employed for holy edification. For the art of painting is employed
in the service of the Church and by it he sufferings of Christ and many other profitable examples are set forth.”
Albrecht Dürer

 
 

 

Anbetung der Könige (The Adoration of the Magi), Albretch Dürer, 1504

 
 

The work itself bears Albretch Dürer‘s monogram and the date 1504, but many historians date it completed in 1505. This painting was commissioned by Frederick the Wise, Elector of Saxony. It has been suggested that the painting may have originally been created as the central panel of a triptych in conjunction with Job and His Wife and Two Musicians as exterior panels (also dated 1504 and commissioned by Frederick the Wise) and the images of Sts. Joseph, Jachim, Simeon, and Lazarus believed to originally have been painted on the back of these two panels. The influence of Italian background landscapes can be seen when comparing Dürer’s painting to Leonardo da Vinci‘s. Dürer’s use of architecture, the free standing arches, is also reflective of Leonardo’s work. In addition, the pose of the Holy Mother, the Infant Christ, the first king, and some of the background figures are reminiscent of the gestures and poses of Leonardo’s figures.

What were the main historical influences on German life at the time Dürer painted Adoration of the Magi? The European view of the world was expanding. The voyages of Christopher Columbus to America and Vasco da Gama to the southern end of Africa and India in the fifteenth century had opened the way for travel through two of the most important oceanic routes.

 
 

Study of the Head of an African, Albretch Dürer, 1508

 
 

The black slave trade had begun on the coast of Africa. Having succeeded his father Frederick in 1493, Maximilian I was king and he had involved Germany in the Italian fray which resulted from the French invasion of Italy in 1494. Medieval protective feudalism was slowly being replaced by modern competitive capitalism. The suffering of the Black Plaque of the mid-fourteenth century which reduced Europe’s population by one-third was giving way to modest recoveries within European life at the beginning of the sixteenth century. But this society within transition was still haunted by the ever present threat of sickness, death, and famine.

Dürer had taken an attitude of opposition to the Church of Rome, and was now beginning to create his own theory of art. The traditions of theology were being viewed in new ways; directly affected by the development of the Gutenberg printing press and the invention of typography in the fifteenth century. These inventions, along with an increase in literacy, allowed direct knowledge of the religious controversies to reach thousands throughout Europe in relatively short periods of time. These events also resulted in greater availability of scriptures for the larger population. Humanistic thought was expanding.

Adoration of the Magi was completed on the brink of two significant periods of new thought within the history of European religion, art, and architecture, the Protestant reform movements and the Renaissance. This painting gives insight into Dürer’s relationship to the religious and cultural changes of this time.

According to Paul H. D. Kaplan, it is believed that the first true appearance of the black Magus/King in European art occurred in the fourteenth century. The black figures appeared not only in painting but on coat of arms as well. In earlier centuries Africans also had appeared as saints in images in European art. In addition, the depiction of the black Queen of Sheba had also been prominent. Kaplan states in The Rise of the Black Magus in Western Art that by 1505 as many as 140,000 to 170,000 Africans had been sold into European slavery. He also states that Dürer used slaves as models, which was probably the case of the figure represented in this painting. “If the Magi symbolized all the peoples of the world, it was becoming clearer that on proportional grounds a black might reasonably be included among them. And the new iconography of the pious African Magus with its affirmation that all were eligible for conversion and salvation, could serve to distract the European audience from the moral problems connected with slavery . . . Thus the proliferation and standardization of the black Margus/King may have been a convenient means of disguising and deflecting consideration of the moral and theological dilemmas posed by black slavery.”

 
 

Anbetung der Könige (The Adoration of the Magi), Albretch Dürer, 1524

 
 

Dürer is described as the first northern Renaissance man, the most important German artist during the transition period from the late Gothic Era to the Renaissance. He combined Italian Renaissance ideas and forms with the late Gothic style of the north. Although an accomplished painter, earlier in his career Dürer was more widely praised for his woodcuts and engravings. A master of art theory as well, he developed an extensive treatise on the art of painting and graphics. Dürer’s contributions in all of these areas made him one of the greatest artist of all times.

 
 

 
 

A decade or more later, in 1521, Dürer produced Portrait of the Moorish Woman Katharina. Dürer saw her in Antwerp, where she was the servant or slave of the Antwerp agent of the king of Portugal. The inscription says Katharina allt 20 Jar. The drawing is in the Uffizi in Florence.