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In 1887 Burne-Jones produced a design depicting the Adoration of the Kings at Christ's Nativity, entitled 'The Star of Bethlehem' The subject was first realised as a large tapestry for Exeter College, Oxford (1890). But while work on the tapestry was still in hand at Merton Abbey, Burne-Jones was commissioned to make a replica in watercolours by the Corporation of Birmingham. Although Burne-Jones's christian faith was shaken (if not altogether lost) while he was a student at Oxford, he retained a profound sense of spirituality. When asked if he believed in the story of the Nativity, as he worked on the watercolour for Birmingham, he professed the view that it was 'too beautiful not to be true'.

August 2004