Renowned as the father of the Dutch Italianates, it is for small scale Italianized scenes such as this that Poelenburgh is best known. His style evolved in Rome where he is first recorded in 1617 as one of the founding members of the Schildersbent, a fellowship of Dutch and Flemish artists, whose members were known as Bentvueghels ('birds of a feather'); he returned to Utrecht ten years later and was immediately accepted as one of the city's leading masters. His pictures proved to be enormously popular amongst wealthy collectors and in order to meet their demand, Poelenburgh produced a prodigious number of cabinet sized pictures.
Given Poelenburgh's productivity, it is not surprising that he occasionally repeated some of his most popular motifs and subjects. The Adoration of the Magi was a theme that the artist treated with regularity, as can be seen, for example, in the picture on a horizontal format in the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Kassel, and the signed panel in the Musée d'Art et d'Histoire, Geneva. A variant of this composition, with numerous differences in the figures, is known in two versions: one sold from the Menten collection at Von Marle en Bignell, The Hague, 26 July 1943, lot 51, and the other, on panel, with Whitfield Fine Art, London, 1997.
Before the picture entered the collection of Beriah Botfield in the 1840s, it belonged to William Beckford. Born to extraordinary wealth from his deceased parents' Jamaican plantations, Beckford's status as a collector and aesthete is justifiably celebrated. To finance the building of Fonthill Abbey, Beckford sold works of art in 1801, 1802 and 1807; these included Hogarth's Rake's Progress, in the Soane Museum, London. He also, however, acquired such works as the Fifth Plague of Egypt by Turner, whom he later employed to immortalize Fonthill Abbey in the watercolour at Brodick Castle, Strathclyde (National Trust for Scotland). Beckford was an insatiable collector. Despite constant pleas of poverty, he acquired, among other works, Gaspard Dughet's Calling of Abraham and Gerrit Dou's Poulterer's Shop, both in the National Gallery, London. He was largely uninfluenced by fashion, claiming that he sold the two paintings by Claude from the Palazzo Altieri, Rome, the Landing of Aeneas in Latium and the Landscape with the Father of Psyche Sacrificing at the Temple of Apollo, both at Anglesey Abbey, Cambridgeshire (National Trust), because of the artist's popularity. He preferred Italian art to northern, disliked Rubens and was orthodox in his veneration of Raphael, whose Saint Catherine, in the National Gallery, London, he owned. Over twenty of Beckford's pictures are now in the National Gallery, London.
In 1823 Beckford sold Fonthill and many of its contents to John Farquar (1751-1826), who in turn sold the contents at auction. The large proportion of the pictures were included in the notorious Fonthill sale which lasted 45 days in September and October 1723. Five pictures by Poelenburgh were amongst them but none of the descriptions quite match the present work. More pictures were sold posthumously as part of the nine day Lansdown Tower sale held in Bath in 1845, amongst which were two more Poelenburgs but again with different descriptions. Hence, it is not clear precisely how and when the present picture changed hands.