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Balthazar, the polymorphic King

Balthazar didn’t always have African features. In the sixth-century Byzantine mosaic presented here, from San Apolinar el Nuevo (Ravenna), Balthazar is white (the first character on the left). Like the other two Kings, he is dressed in a Phrygian cap and Persian vestments, thus indicating the origin of the Magi protagonists of the Epiphany.

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This Byzantine mosaic features Baltasar without African features (the third from the left). ABC

We will have to wait until the interest aroused by the African continent in the fifteenth century to see Balthazar represented with African features. The ages of the three wise men also stand out: Melchior is the oldest, followed by Caspar and the youngest of them, Balthazar. For the Anglo-Saxon monk Beda the Venerable (672-735), age differences would indicate that the faithful should worship Christ at any stage of life, just as the Magi of the East did.

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