Advent offering – 24 December

It’s Christmas Eve and today’s penultimate advent offering is drawn from another gospel scene oft associated with the festive season – the visitation of the magi (or wise men) to Bethlehem to see the infant Jesus, whom they believed had been born “king of the Jews” (Matthew 2.1-12). It’s a popular image in art (and on Christmas cards), the Magi standing deferentially before the crib holding out their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The particular depiction I’ve chosen is from the 19th Century English painter and designer Edward Burne-Jones. The painting is called The Star of Bethlehem and was the source for a tapestry designed and completed by decorative arts group William Morris & Co a few years later. Both painting and tapestry are utterly beautiful, each with its own vibrant colour palette and attention to detail – I particularly like the plethora of flowers that fill the tapestry version of the picture. In each image, the magi stand humbly by with their gifts, crowns taken off in deference to this special child. Jesus, meanwhile, sits on his mother’s lap – he looks a tad unsure of these new arrivals, or maybe he’s not taken by the gifts they’ve brought. Both of his parents likewise seem somewhat uncomfortable by this encounter – perhaps it reiterates for them the real strangeness of all the events that have taken place in their lives within this gospel nativity narrative. Only the androgynous angel, who hovers beside the group holding the star of Bethlehem in his or her hand, appears fully at ease, certain that things are all moving along according to plan.

Edward Burne-Jones, Star of Bethlehem painting (1890)
William Morris & Co, Adoration of the Magi tapestry (c.1894)

One thought on “Advent offering – 24 December

  1. dcparr December 25, 2013 / 10:36 pm

    I love Burne-Jones’ and William Morris’s work: it’s fascinating to observe the differences between the two versions of the picture.


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