Balthazar: A Black African King in Medieval and Renaissance Art

Polymode designed a catalogue for the groundbreaking Getty Museum Exhibition Balthazar: A Black African King in Medieval and Renaissance Art. This abundantly illustrated book examines the figure of Balthazar, one of the biblical magi, and explains how and why he came to be depicted as a Black African king. The publication was curated by Kristen Collins and Bryan C. Keene.

Our poetic research process referenced the extensive illuminated manuscripts in the Getty’s collection that depict Balthazar, other historical artifacts including paintings, manuscript illuminations, mosaics, carved ivories, and jewelry. Our design fused the historical with the contemporary based on a rich and varied selection of contemporary art that was included in the publication.

This included the use of a vibrant orange flood on the cover that was sampled from the lapel on a garment that Balthazar was wearing in an illuminated depiction of him from 1525–30. We chose the Klim foundry contemporary typefaces Epicene Text & Display typefaces with a Baroque flair that point back to the history of illuminated texts. This was paired with Atlas  designed by Atelier Carvalho Bernau, a typeface that deliberately avoids  trends in corporate type design in favor of a neutral, cheerful tone of Modernism.