Samuel H. Kress Collection/©1999 Board of Trustees/National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

The Adoration—in two traditions. Florentine artists Fra Angelico and Fra Filippo Lippi beautifully captured the infant Jesus with his first admirers in this 15th-century painting, echoing Matthew’s gospel: “In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is this child who has been born king of the Jews? For we have observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’” Buddha’s birth is similarly recognized by wise men: “For what reasons are these signs revealed? Is it that a god of great merit has been born? Or is it that a Buddha has emerged in the world? Never before have we seen such signs! We must trace them together, crossing a myriad of lands, seeking the glow and investigating it together.”

In both Christian and Buddhist tradition, the wise men arrive to find infant sons who were born under eerily similar circumstances: Mary, Jesus’ mother, and Queen Maya, Siddhartha’s mother, were sexually chaste; angels of God had visited them both; and both gave birth in nature, away from any home.