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Edward Burne-Jones (Edward Burne Jones) (1833-1898)  The Star of Bethlehem  watercolour, c.1885-1890  260 cm × 390 cm (101 in × 152 in)  Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, Birmingham, United Kingdom
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Title: The Star of Bethlehem
Description:
 
Edward Burne-Jones (Edward Burne Jones) (1833-1898)
The Star of Bethlehem
watercolour, c.1885-1890
260 cm × 390 cm (101 in × 152 in)
Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, Birmingham, United Kingdom

The Star of Bethlehem is a painting in watercolour by Sir Edward Burne-Jones depicting the Adoration of the Magi with an angel holding the star of Bethlehem. It was commissioned by the Corporation of the City of Birmingham for its new Museum and Art Gallery in 1887, two years after Burne-Jones was elected Honorary President of the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists. 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 had approached William Morris and Burne-Jones to create a tapestry as a gift for their alma mater Exeter College, Oxford, suggesting the Adoration of the Magi as a subject. The two quickly agreed. Burne-Jones completed a 26 x 38 inch modello or design in watercolour and bodycolour heightened with gold in 1887. Morris and his assistant John Henry Dearle 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. at Merton Abbey 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 Chapel, one in the Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, one in the Art Gallery of South Australia, and one at Manchester Metropolitan University. 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 by Frederick Hollyer, 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, London, in the spring of 1891 before being sent on to the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, it remains.
 
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Edward Burne-Jones (Edward Burne Jones) (1833-1898)  The Beguiling of Merlin  Oil on canvas, 1873-1874  111 x 186 cm (3' 7.7Edward Burne-Jones (Edward Burne Jones) (1833-1898)  The Star of Bethlehem  watercolour, c.1885-1890  260 cm × 390 cm (101 in × 152 in)  Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, Birmingham, United KingdomEdward Burne-Jones (Edward Burne Jones) (1833-1898)  Pygmalion and the Image: I - The Heart Desires  Oil on canvas, 1875-1878  76.3 x 99 cm (30.04
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