Star of Bethlehem (painting)
The Star of Bethlehem is a painting
Painting is the practice of applying paint, pigment, color or other medium to a surface . The application of the medium is commonly applied to the base with a brush but other objects can be used. In art, the term painting describes both the act and the result of the action. However, painting is...

 in watercolour by Sir Edward Burne-Jones
Edward Burne-Jones
Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, 1st Baronet was a British artist and designer closely associated with the later phase of the Pre-Raphaelite movement, who worked closely with William Morris on a wide range of decorative arts as a founding partner in Morris, Marshall, Faulkner, and Company...

 depicting the Adoration of the Magi with an angel
Angels are mythical beings often depicted as messengers of God in the Hebrew and Christian Bibles along with the Quran. The English word angel is derived from the Greek ἄγγελος, a translation of in the Hebrew Bible ; a similar term, ملائكة , is used in the Qur'an...

 holding the star of Bethlehem
Star of Bethlehem
In Christian tradition, the Star of Bethlehem, also called the Christmas Star, revealed the birth of Jesus to the magi, or "wise men", and later led them to Bethlehem. The star appears in the nativity story of the Gospel of Matthew, where magi "from the east" are inspired by the star to travel to...

. It was commissioned by the Corporation of the City of Birmingham
Birmingham is a city and metropolitan borough in the West Midlands of England. It is the most populous British city outside the capital London, with a population of 1,036,900 , and lies at the heart of the West Midlands conurbation, the second most populous urban area in the United Kingdom with a...

 for its new Museum and Art Gallery
Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery
Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery is a museum and art gallery in Birmingham, England.Entrance to the Museum and Art Gallery is free, but some major exhibitions in the Gas Hall incur an entrance fee...

 in 1887, two years after Burne-Jones was elected Honorary President of the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists
Royal Birmingham Society of Artists
The Royal Birmingham Society of Artists or RBSA is a learned society of artists and an art gallery based in the Jewellery Quarter in Birmingham, England. it is both a registered charity. and a registered company The Royal Birmingham Society of Artists or RBSA is a learned society of artists and an...

. At 101 1/8 x 152 inches, The Star of Bethlehem was the largest watercolour of the 19th century. It was completed in 1890 and was first exhibited in 1891.

Origin of the composition

In 1886, John Prideaux Lightfoot
John Prideaux Lightfoot
John Prideaux Lightfoot, D.D. was an English clergyman who served as the Rector of Exeter College, Oxford from 18 March 1854 until his death and as a Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University from 1862 to 1866...

 had approached William Morris
William Morris
William Morris 24 March 18343 October 1896 was an English textile designer, artist, writer, and socialist associated with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and the English Arts and Crafts Movement...

 and Burne-Jones to create a tapestry
Tapestry is a form of textile art, traditionally woven on a vertical loom, however it can also be woven on a floor loom as well. It is composed of two sets of interlaced threads, those running parallel to the length and those parallel to the width ; the warp threads are set up under tension on a...

 as a gift for their alma mater Exeter College, Oxford
Exeter College, Oxford
Exeter College is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in England and the fourth oldest college of the University. The main entrance is on the east side of Turl Street...

, suggesting the Adoration of the Magi as a subject. The two quickly agreed. Burne-Jones completed a 26 x 38 inch modello
A modello, from the Italian, is a preparatory study or model, usually at a smaller scale, for a work of art or architecture, especially one produced for the approval of the commissioning patron. The term gained currency in art circles in Tuscany in the fourteenth century. Modern definitions in...

 or design in watercolour and bodycolour heightened with gold in 1887. Morris and his assistant John Henry Dearle
John Henry Dearle
John Henry Dearle or J. H. Dearle was a British textile and stained glass designer trained by Pre-Raphaelite artist and craftsman William Morris. Dearle designed many of the later wallpapers and textiles released by Morris & Co., and contributed background and foliage patterns to tapestry designs...

 based the cartoons for the tapestry weavers on Burne-Jones's watercolour, changing the colour scheme and adding background details including the flowering plants characteristic of Dearle's tapestry work. The tapestry was woven by Morris & Co.
Morris & Co.
Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. and its successor Morris & Co. were furnishings and decorative arts manufacturers and retailers founded by the Pre-Raphaelite artist and designer William Morris...

 at Merton Abbey
Merton Abbey Mills
Merton Abbey Mills is a former textile factory in the parish of Merton in London, England near the site of the medieval Merton Priory, now the home of a variety of businesses, mostly retailers....

 over the next two years and displayed in their London showrooms at Easter 1890 before being presented to Exeter College.

The Adoration was ultimately the most commercially successful of all Morris & Co. tapestries. Of the ten versions woven, one is in Eton College
Eton College
Eton College, often referred to simply as Eton, is a British independent school for boys aged 13 to 18. It was founded in 1440 by King Henry VI as "The King's College of Our Lady of Eton besides Wyndsor"....

 Chapel, one in the Hermitage Museum
Hermitage Museum
The State Hermitage is a museum of art and culture in Saint Petersburg, Russia. One of the largest and oldest museums of the world, it was founded in 1764 by Catherine the Great and has been opened to the public since 1852. Its collections, of which only a small part is on permanent display,...

, St Petersburg, one in the Art Gallery of South Australia
Art Gallery of South Australia
The Art Gallery of South Australia , located on the cultural boulevard of North Terrace in Adelaide, is the premier visual arts museum in the Australian state of South Australia. It has a collection of over 35,000 works of art, making it, after the National Gallery of Victoria, the largest state...

, and one at Manchester Metropolitan University
Manchester Metropolitan University
Manchester Metropolitan University is a university in North West England. Its headquarters and central campus is in the city of Manchester, but there are outlying facilities in the county of Cheshire. It is the third largest university in the United Kingdom in terms of student numbers, behind the...

. The original hangs in the Exeter College Chapel.

The painting

The Birmingham commission gave Burne-Jones an opportunity to revisit his tapestry design as a full-scale painting. The colour palette with its rich blue-greens differs greatly from both the original watercolour modello and the Morris tapestry, and its large size allowed him to add a wealth of fine detail not possible in the tapestry version, especially in the clothing. Burne-Jones worked on a ladder, and wrote "a tiring thing it is physically to do, up my steps and down..." A photograph by Barbara Leighton Sotheby, preserved as a platinum print
Platinum print
Platinum prints, also called platinotypes, are photographic prints made by a monochrome printing process that provides the greatest tonal range of any printing method using chemical development....

 by Frederick Hollyer
Frederick Hollyer
Frederick Hollyer was an English photographer and engraver known for his photographic reproductions of paintings and drawings, particularly those of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and for portraits of literary and artistic figures of late Victorian and Edwardian London.-Family:Hollyer was the...

, shows Burne-Jones on his ladder in front of the work-in-progress. The Star of Bethlehem was completed in 1890 and exhibited at the New Gallery
New Gallery (London)
The New Gallery was an art gallery founded at 121 Regent Street W., London, in 1888 by J. Comyns Carr and Charles Edward Hallé. Carr and Hallé had been co-directors of Sir Coutts Lindsay's Grosvenor Gallery, but resigned from that troubled gallery in 1887....

, London, in the spring of 1891 before being sent on to the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, where it remains.

External links

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