Study for 'The Star of Bethlehem'

Study for 'The Star of Bethlehem' , 1875-1899

Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones

Artist:Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones
Birmingham, England, 1833 - 1898

chalk on brown paper

In 1887 Burne-Jones designed a tapestry called The Star of Bethlehem, representing the Adoration of Magi, for the Chapter of Exeter College, Oxford, Morris and Burne-Jones' old college. One year later the Birmingham Corporation commissioned him to execute a large watercolour version of the subject The Star of Bethlehem (Birmingham, City Art Gallery), which was completed in 1891.
This drawing is a study for the figure of Joseph for the tapestry or the watercolour. Joseph is depicted as an old man seen in profile and with a grey beard, Joseph, who carries a bunch of hay to warm up the Infant Christ. He looks at the baby with a vigilant and worried attitude that is emphasized by the movement of his left hand, the only dynamic element of the figure. The rather metallic and stylised treatment of draperies characteristic of Burne-Jones' last decade, may be related to his interest in Byzantine art. Although the sketch is just chalk on paper, it shows a high degree of definition in the drapery and the expression of Joseph's face. The figure in the final version faithfully reproduces the study. The old man of the working drawing stands to the left of the composition in the watercolour, next to the Madonna and Child. His humble figure represents the poor counterpart of the rich and elegantly dressed Kings who stand on the right side of the picture, bringing luxurious gifts.
At least one other study for The Star of Bethlehem is known. It depicts the Infant Christ, and is initialled and dated 1891. It shows a marked sense of volume and higher level of accuracy than our study.


Presented in 1956 by the Trustees of Sir Thomas Jaffrey.
Out of copyright
Sight Size: Height: 32.3 cm, Width: 15.6 cm Frame: Height: 56.3 cm, Width: 38.5 cm
Acc. No. ABDAG002653

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