Burne-Jones was approached by the Corporation of Birmingham in 1887 to paint a major work for the new Municipal Museum and Art Gallery. He chose the subject of the Adoration of the Magi under the title The Star of Bethlehem, which he had already been asked to produce as a tapestry for Exeter College, Oxford.
The original concept of this Nativity scene was for tapestry, and several were executed by Morris & Co., located currently in: National Gallery of South Australia; Castle Museum, Norwich; Eton College Chapel; the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg; Manchester Metropolitan University and the original tapestry for Exeter College Chapel, Oxford.
A preliminary compositional sketch c.1887, is owned by the Cincinnati Art Museum, Ohio. Several finished studies of the Virgin, Joseph, Melchior, Gaspar as well as an additional study for Balthazar were auctioned at Sotheby's on 3 November 1993 (Lot 220). A study for the Christ Child was also listed at Sotheby's on 24 September 1987 (Lot 528). Listed at both these sales, was a large gouache heightened with gold of 'The Star of Bethlehem', executed in 1887 as the preliminary design for the tapestry (now in the Collection of Lord Lloyd-Webber).