The Star of the Kings

A few months ago, I came across the image below while cataloguing a series of prints of the months from a late seventeenth-century almanac in Douce’s collection:

Christoffel van Sichem IV and Jan de Bray, Januarius / Louw-Maendt, c. 1694, woodcut (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford)

The man pouring water from a vase next to a fountain in the background of this nocturnal scene alludes to the Zodiac sign of Aquarius. The foreground, however, is occupied by a group of children that go from house to house carrying a lantern in the shape of a star. They celebrate the feast of Twelfth Night which, according to Anke A. van Wagenberg-ter Hoeven, was ‘the most important family gathering of the year in the seventeenth-century Netherlands’. Two impressions of Jan de Velde II’s The star of the kings, considered as ‘the earliest depiction of star-singers’, were kept by Douce with his prints of popular amusements:

Jan van de Velde II after Pieter de Molijn, The star of the kings, c. 1630, engraving (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford)

Bernard Picart also included the star-singers among his illustrations for the Cérémonies et coutumes religieuses de tous les peuples du monde (1723-1743):

Bernard Picart, L’Etoile des Rois promenée dans Amsterdam, 1726-33, engraving (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford)

Douce cut Picart’s illustration from the book and he filed it with the print by Van de Velde, on the back of which he pasted a piece of paper with the account of the Dutch Twelfth Night provided in the Cérémonies. A compulsive extractor (and annotator), Douce later added another scrap scribbled with a description of a parade involving the three kings and a star that took place in Florence in 1467, found in Machiavelli’s Istorie Fiorentine (1532).

In her study of “The celebration of Twelfth Night in Netherlandish art”, Van Wagenberg-ter Hoeven establishes a distinction between ‘outdoor’ and ‘domestic’ celebrations. Both types are combined in this Carnaval Hollandois after Jan Steen, also from Douce’s collection, which shows the star-singers entering a room where the Twelfth-Night king drinks surrounded by revelers:

J. Wysman after Jan Steen, Le Carnaval Hollandois, 1797, stipple (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford)

This entry was posted in Almanacs, Carols, Engravings, Everyday life, Feast, Festivals, Prints, Seasons, Stipple, Zodiac. Bookmark the permalink.

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