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The Shepherds’ Gifts in The Second Shepherds9 Play and Bosch’s “ Adoration of the M agi” John P. Cutts Professor Ross’s article on symbol and structure in the Secunda Pastorum which appeared in the pages of the Spring 1967 issue of this periodical1 drew careful attention to the gifts which the Shepherds present to the Christ Child at the end of the play— a “bob of cherys,” a “ byrd,” and a “ball”— and particularly stressed that the Wakefield gifts were not selected with an “idealized pastoral symbolism in mind” and that they represented “a break with English dramatic. . . tradition” and even with English artistic tradition in that the gifts are not homely and rustic and not visualized in “contemporary realism” (p. 126). Ross’s conclusion that “ the inspiration for the specific gifts, at once simple and significant, must, it would seem, have come from medieval art” amply supported by his extraordinarily careful study of medieval iconographical traditional presentation of cherry, bird, and ball in association with the Christ figure receives support from an icono­ graphical quarter which by the merest of chances he seems not to have investigated, and which, but for an extraordinary coincidence in the present writer’s study, would have continued lying in limbo. Moreover, of all the exempla of the religious art of the period to which Ross has referred not one specifically contained all three symbols in one coherent unit. As Ross points out, the ball is the symbolic orb of Christ’s kingship, the bird the symbol of his divinity, the cherry the symbol of his sacrificial manhood, but these interpretations have had to be arrived at from random exempla in which frequently two of the symbols will be found together, such as the Child with a cherry in his hand, or the birds with cherries in their beaks (See Ross’s figure 7), or the Child with an orb in his hand (See figure 1), or the child with both the orb and the bird (see figure 3). I wish to draw attention now to a famous exemplum of medieval art which in one unit combined all three symbols about to be offered to the Christ Child by one of the Magi. It was not until I saw the illustrated article on “ Black Lamps: White Mirrors” in Time for October 3, 1969,2 showing author-critic Alexander Eliot’s assembly of examples of Negroes in art in Rembrandt, Rubens, and others, and especially in Bosch’s “ Adoration of the Magi,” that a detail of Bosch’s 120 John P. Cutts 121 painting suddenly made me realize that Ross’s theory is indeed right, and proved to the last detail. Bosch has depicted the black king, Caspar, about to make his presentation to the Christ child of a ball (a white globe faintly tinged with blue3), mounted by a bird with a cherry in its beak. It is quite clear from Bosch’s painting that Caspar is carrying a silver coffer of myrrh, and the round container itself is ornamented with a scene depict­ ing three people— two soldiers standing behind a kneeling crowned king who is holding up what looks like an open book to a seated crowned figure. Interpretations vary on the identification of this scene,4 but the significant factor is that a royal person is being kneeled to by another royal person and this in itself is a kind of foreshadowing of the Epiphany. The old king’s gift, the large object at the Virgin’s feet, is a group executed in gold of Abraham about to sacrifice Isaac— an episode foreshadowing the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. On the cape of the second king is illustrated the story of the Queen of Sheba, and the sacrifice of Manoah, both of which are foreshadowings of the Messiah. Manoah’s sacrifice of a kid to the Lord because an angel of the Lord had appeared unto his barren wife and promised that she would conceive is a neat foreshadowing of Elizabeth the mother of John the Baptist who became the voice in the wilderness preparing the way for the Messiah. The story of the Queen of Sheba who is...


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pp. 120-124
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