For almost two thousand years, the iconographic theme of the Adoration of the Magi has been part of our collective imagery, so that we nearly all have in our memory an image of the figures of the three Magi bringing gifts to the newborn Jesus. The Gospel of Matthew tells how some wise men followed the star from the East, until it stopped over the place where the Child was to be found. Then, «after coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshipped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh” (Matth. 2, 11).

Matthew’s Gospel is the only canonical source to recount this episode, though there are numerous mentions in the apocryphal texts, such as the Protoevangelium of James and the so-called ‘infancy gospels’. To these textual sources were soon added images. In fact, the first depictions of the scene of the adoration of the Magi were found as early as the 2nd-3rd century in the Roman catacombs, or sculpted on marble sarcophagi. From then on, depending on the periods and places of the long history of the Christian cultural tradition, this popular topos has been replicated and reworked in an extraordinary variety of ways and forms.

But in a European cultural context, throughout the height of the Renaissance, how were the journey of the Magi and the donation of gifts to the Child shown? From Milan to Nuremberg, to Paris, in the early sixteenth century, which artistic techniques brought to the eyes of believers the ancient tale of the three wise men travelling from the distant East to worship Jesus?

Today, the Sala del Tesoro tells this compelling chapter from our shared history and helps us to discover four artistic techniques employed contemporaneously in Renaissance times, here used to give graphic form to the popular theme of the adoration of the Magi: drawing, miniature, woodblock and copperplate.