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Fine Art Triptych

Gifts of the Magi


Gifts of the Magi - Fine Art Mural by E. Thor Carlson


About My Gifts of the Magi Triptych

In the center is Mary and The Baby. I chose to use the orthodox setting, rather than the Roman setting. In the orthodox setting they use the cave as the place of birth. In the Roman tradition it is in a stable, otherwise, the material is very similar. Also included in this nativity are the three kings. On the far left is the oldest of the kings, on the right panel is the middle-aged king, and in the center, with the round glass orb, is the youngest king. They symbolize old age, middle age, and youth. Very often in the Italian paintings, everybody was in the foreground, often with the artist himself painted, so I decided to include myself with a beard and that is the fellow looking at you from under the blue draperies.

Also a number of people viewing this are some of my old friends, who are no longer alive. Above Mary and Child is God the Father and, to the right, is a vignette of the Virgin in the temple, which is part of the iconography of the period. There are, of course, angels and angels without wings, which the Italians call "Putti".

In and around all this I have tried to include all of the different races of Man. There are Japanese, there are Africans, there are people from the Middle East, and people from Native America.

On the far right is Eve with the snake, coming down and around her. The peacock is there because it symbolizes pride. In all of these ancient paintings, people could not read so they knew what was going on from the symbolism.

I also included a Viking ship sailing quietly in the background and you can guess why. I also have a moon in the right panel. The moon is a female face because, in Japan, the moon is feminine. Instead of The Man in the Moon, they have The Woman in the Moon. On the left panel is the world as seen from the moon. It is the great blue marble that we have come to realize we live on. The setting in this case is reminiscent of Italy except, in the center panel is a mountain, not from Italy, but Mount Monadnock in New Hampshire. I very often include mountains in my paintings because I grew up with views of Mount Monadnock.

The subject matter is a mix of traditional and modern symbols. I chose to show the event happening in a cave, which is the older tradition, especially in the Orthodox churches. Each of the side panels has a wise man, as does the center panel. The old magus from the East, in the left panel, then, in the center, the young magus presenting the Orb (Kingship) and the middle aged magus in the right panel. Mary and the child are the central point of the entire triptych. Her Presentation at the temple is depicted over the opening to the cave, where God the Father contemplates the sacrifice of his Son, and Lucifer is held at bay.

In the old triptychs, the artists often depicted by standers, angels and other supernumeraries. They were often friends and patrons of the artist. I chose to do this, but also added negative images of devils and sinners, and positive ones of old friends and objects that hold meaning to me and, of course, my dogs who are now with God. However, the viewer is welcome to create his or her own interpretation of these events and will very probably see these images in ways that I never imagined. This is the way of the visual image. We each bring something of ourselves to the visual table.

It started with two drawings in 1978. These were exhibited in Massachusetts and won an award. In 1980, I decided to make a drawing for a center panel in the traditional manner of Gothic and Renaissance artists' triptychs. The subject matter is a mix of traditional and modern symbols. I had seen many examples during the year that I studied in Italy in 1949 - 1950.

I built three panels for a triptych and primed them in the traditional glue size and gesso. Then I made the under-painting of the central panel in burnt sienna and white. The panel remained in that state until I retired from full-time teaching in 1983, and had moved to New Hampshire in 1986, where I started the oil over-lay color glazes, completing this in 1986. Finally, I painted the under-painting and final color glazes for the two side panels. It was first exhibited at the Twin Columns Gallery, in Claremont, and in several other galleries since then.

-- E. Thor Carlson, Christmas 2006.



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