One of the stellar attractions (pun intended!) of the Birmingham Museum is Sir Edward Burne-Jones’ masterpiece Star of Bethlehem. It is HUGE – at a gob-smacking 101 inches by 152 inches it was the largest water colour of the 19th century (it was painted in 1891). It is a beautiful picture depicting in rich blues and greens and a wealth of detail the three kings presenting their gifts to the baby Jesus.
At the centre of the picture is an angel holding a shining light repesenting the star of Bethlehem, to the left are Joseph, Mary and Jesus, to the right are the three kings. The picture seems to have a Middle Ages setting and one of the kings is clad in armour. The submissiveness of these wealthy and powerful figures symbolises that all must ultimately acknowledge Christ.
The richness of the kings’ clothing contrasts sharply with the simplicity of the family who seem to have only a slight stick and straw structure for shelter. Joseph appears to have just come from collecting firewood. The baby Jesus appears frightened; his nakedness accentuates his vulnerability.
At the bottom of the picture, below the angel, is a clump of white flowers. These are Ornithogalum umbellatum, commonly known as ‘Star of Bethlehem’.