7o INTERSTIZIO marzo 2011

Star Chasers: Visual Evolution of the Magi

An interstizio presentation – Saturday, 5 March 2011, 5pm

The book of Matthew tells of astrologers from the east who follow a star to the infant Christ. As the story goes, these astrologers – also referred to as Magi, Wise Men or Kings – pay homage to the child and offer gifts, including gold, frankincense and myrrh. Many historians and theologians believe these visitors to be Zoroastrian priests from Persia, and early Christians often took the biblical account literally, interpreting their visitational act as one of worship. As such, one might say that the Magi were the first gentiles to cross the cultural frontier from eastern paganism to western Christianity.

This lecture and discussion, led by Alice Lynn McMichael, will focus primarily on the shifting symbolic import and interpretability of this narrative's visual record. For instance, the Magi appear in some of the earliest Christian images, including catacomb paintings and sarcophagi. In these depictions, ethnic identities are constructed for the figures, and they become symbols of religious conversion and faith – symbols whose reappropriated embodiments yet persist today, from the countless reproductions of Christmas trinkets to the nativity scenes that adorn church grounds and front yards. Through her examination of the iconographic details of such depictions and the stylistic developments they have undergone, Alice Lynn will expand on the social and political connotations of the Magi's presence in early Christian art and thereafter.

Alice Lynn McMichael is a PhD student in art history at the CUNY Graduate Center. The focus of her research is Mediterranean medieval studies, upon which she expounds with loving zeal on her blog, 33 Conversations: Dialogues and Diatribes About the Middle Ages.

Centotto will be open from 4-7pm on the day of this presentation. Alice Lynn's talk will commence at 5.


Nave mosaic, c. 556-69
S. Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna: Nave mosaic, c. 556-69

Adoration of the Magi, 1423
Gentile da Fabriano: Adoration of the Magi, 1423