The World’s Largest Watercolor Depicts the Three Kings
The first time I laid eyes on the largest watercolor painting in the world, my eye was immediately drawn to that mysterious male figure in the center holding what looks to be a small ball of fire…yet without getting burned. Wow!
He is an angel, of course, and he delicately hovers over the Christ Child as the Magi look on. (You will notice in the image below that his feet don’t actually touch the ground.) And this angel’s ministry to the Holy One gives the painting its name: The Star of Bethlehem.
There is actually a kind of theology behind the star he holds:
First, his presentation of the little ball of light acknowledges that angels are the custodians of the natural world, including the universe and all the glowing objects in the night sky which we call stars.
Second, it raises the possibility that the angel himself could actually be the star that the Magi followed, something I have written about in the past. It is an intriguing thought!
But an angel would never distract our attention from worship of the Christ Child.
The English Victorian artist named Edward Burne-Jones (1833–1898) created this piece between 1887 and 1890. It was commissioned by the City of Birmingham (England, not Alabama!) for its new Museum and Art Gallery where visitors can still see the painting 134 years after it was completed.
It is a huge canvas, approximately 8½ feet high x 14½ feet wide. (The photo with the angel in the background gives a good sense of the painting’s size.) Burne-Jones had to paint most of it by ascending and descending a ladder and later complained that he had journeyed as many miles in the process of painting as the Magi had traveled to get to the Christ Child!
Interestingly, this massive wall of art is a watercolor, although it doesn’t have the character of the airy, bright, fluid style that we take for watercolor painting today.
More precisely, it is called gouache, a watercolor technique which uses opaque materials and is usually more subdued in color than a normal watercolor or oil painting. It was a popular artistic style of the late 1800s, as noted in a previous Sacred Windows Newsletter about the “Life of Christ” series by James Tissot.
But this watercolor is not the only Star of Bethlehem that Burne-Jones created. In 1888, with his friends William Morris and John Henry Dearle, he designed a tapestry of the same scene, if you can believe it. (The tapestry itself is 8 feet wide!) It was woven in 1894.
Despite the identical theme, the painting and the tapestry are easily distinguishable by their colors, with the tapestry draping the figures in red and gold garments as opposed to the watercolor’s dominant green shades.
Burne-Jones’ artistic output would take an encyclopedia to document, so I’ll have leave you with a reference to a page where you can see more of his admirable artwork if you so wish. The WikiArt Page has an impressive collection of his works which are, to a piece, wonders to behold.
A blessed feast of the Three Kings to all Sacred Windows readers!