Giraudon/Art Resource, NY

Heavenly light suffuses this 15th-century Nativity scene. The divine presence is emphasized through the inclusion of the Trinity: God the Father appears at top, surrounded by a host of cherubim; the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descends on golden rays; and the Son is cradled in the wings of angels.

Early Christian writers noted that the magi, the first visitors to recognize Jesus as messiah, were thus also the first witnesses to the Trinity. Each magus was described as recognizing a different aspect of Jesus: mortal, divine and eternal. Their affiliation with the Trinity, suggests author Robin Jensen, might explain why they are almost always depicted as three.

This illumination appears in the prayerbook Les Très Riches Heures, produced by the Limbourg Brothers for the French Duke of Berry. It is now in the Musée Condé, in Chantilly, France.