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The Adoration of the Magi: M.39-1904

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Object information

Current Location: In storage


The Adoration of the Magi


Production: Pénicaud workshop (Possibly)
Production: Master of the High Foreheads (Possibly)




Copper roundel decorated with polychrome enamels, and some jewelling over paillons, in circular gilt-wood frame. The Virgin sits with the Christ Child on her lap on the left in front of the gable end of a building. One king kneels to present a casket while the other two kings stand behind her.

Circular very slightly convex copper plaque with a small hole on each side, painted in multi-couche technique in blue, greyish-blue, green, turquoise, pale yellowish-brown, mulberry, black, grey, on a white ground, with jewelling over silver foil. The Virgin is seated on a wooden stool. She looks downwards, and holds the wide-awake infant Christ on her knee to greet one of the kings, who kneels before him holding out an open casket. A second king stands behind them in the centre, pointing to the right with his right index finger. The third more youthful king stands on the right. Behind the figures is the gable end of a rustic building, and on the right, an area of sky with a star. On the reverse, the copper is visible through the almost clear but cloudy counter-enamel with many pin holes. The plaque is mounted in a circular gilt wood frame with a border of small impressed circles round the top, and on the cavetto, a pricked repeating pattern of elliptical outlines. On accession the back was closed by brown paper, with near the top a small dark red leather suspension tab.


History note: Holingworth Magniac, Colworth, Bedfordshire; sold Christie’s, 2, 4-8 and 11-15 July 1892, Catalogue of the renowned collection of works of art chiefly formed by the late Hollingworth Magniac Esq. (known as the Colworth Collection), 5th Day, 7 July, p. 138, lot 516, sold for £33.12.0 to Frank McClean, Tunbridge Wells.

Legal notes

Frank McClean Bequest

Place(s) associated

  • Limoges ⪼ Haute Vienne ⪼ France

Acquisition and important dates

Method of acquisition: Bequeathed (1904) by McClean, Frank


16th Century, Early#
Circa 1515 CE - 1530 CE


The story of the journey of three wise men from the east to find the newly-born King of the Jews is told in St Matthew’s Gospel, 2, 1-12. The Adoration of the Magi depicts their arrival at Bethlehem to worship the Infant Christ and present to him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrh signifying his royalty, divinity, suffering and death. The small holes on each side, now filled, indicate that the medallion may originally have been intended to be mounted as a hat badge. Busts or figures of Saints, and small Biblical scenes were popular subjects for these badges, which were worn on the upturned brims of men's hats during the late fifteenth and first half of the sixteenth century. A portrait of Louis XII painted c. 1510-14, in the Royal Collection at Holyrood House, Edinburgh, shows the king wearing a badge decorated with three saints. Several enamelled roundels of about the same size as the Fitzwilliam's, in the Walters Art Museum, the Museum Angewandte Kunst, Vienna, the Musée des Arts décoratif, Paris, and the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Limoges have 'jewelled' borders which make them appear even more likely to have been used in this way. his and several other small plaques of the Adoration of the Magi were derived from either the same manuscript or printed source, or from one or other of a series of more accomplished late fifteenth century plaques attributed to the Monvaerni Master, which include Joseph on the left, the Virgin seated with an alert Christ Child on her lap, a bearded king kneeling to present a rectangular casket, two others standing behind him, of whom one or both are pointing upwards or sideways with one index finger, and an open gable end of a stable in the left background. A rectangular plaque with a slightly curved top in the Musée Municipal de l’Evêché, Limoges, provides an approximate date range for the earliest examples because the scene includes on the right of the Biblical group, St John presenting Jean Barton II, Bishop of Limoges, from 1484-1510. and was probably made before the death in 1497 of his uncle and predecessor, Jean I Barton. For the other plaques attributed to the Monvaerni Master see Documentation, Marcheix, 1967. Dalton attributed the Fitzwilliam’s plaque to ‘an enameller of the school of Nardon Pénicaud, and dated it to about 1500. However, the white preparation, only slight deterioration of the blue enamel, and almost clear cloudy counter-enamel suggest that it is more likely to be closer to 1525. The treatment of the heads, and the jewelling round the edges of Mary’s halo and the garments of both figures, seems close in style to those of the Virgin and Gabriel on an unattributed pax of the Annunciation in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

School or Style


People, subjects and objects depicted

Components of the work

Decoration composed of enamels ( blue, greyish-blue, green, turquoise, pale yellowish-brown, mulberry, black, grey, and white) silver foil
Plaque Depth 3 mm Diameter 6.3 cm
Frame Diameter 9.3 cm

Materials used in production


Inscription or legends present

Inscription present: circular paper label printed in a circle in black with the collection name surrounding the lot number in black ink

  • Text: MAGNIAC COLLECTION, printed, 516 in hand-written black ink
  • Location: On brown paper backing of frame
  • Method of creation: Printed in black and hand-written in black ink
  • Type: Label

Inscription present: rectangular with blue border forming four shallow lobes

  • Text: Mr Magniac.
  • Location: On brown paper backing of frame
  • Method of creation: Hand-written in black ink
  • Type: Label
  • Text: 528
  • Location: On brown paper backing near the top
  • Method of creation: Hand-written in pencil
  • Type: Inscription

References and bibliographic entries

Identification numbers

Accession number: M.39-1904
Primary reference Number: 156425
Stable URI

Audit data

Created: Saturday 6 August 2011 Updated: Tuesday 27 February 2024 Last processed: Sunday 3 March 2024

Associated departments & institutions

Owner or interested party: The Fitzwilliam Museum
Associated department: Applied Arts

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The Fitzwilliam Museum (2024) "The Adoration of the Magi" Web page available at: Accessed: 2024-07-24 16:33:12

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