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Mary Kenny: The pre-Raphaelite artist who fused faith and beauty to create enduring Christmas masterpieces 

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In our era of multiculturalism, perhaps the image of The Adoration of the Magi is quite apt: the three wise men who bring gifts to the infant Jesus are depicted as representing three different ethnicities. King Gaspar of Godolie hails from the region we now call the Yemen; Melchoir, King of Tarsis, is from a province of Turkey, and Balthazar, King of Nubia, would have travelled from Egypt-Sudan.

Ever since the Christmas card was invented in the early Victorian era, the Magi has been a compelling image.

Edward Burne-Jones's exquisite Magi tapestry - executed by the renowned William Morris in 1894 - has achieved iconic status, with its lush floral framework, its simple manger of wattle and thatch, the infant Jesus turned towards the Magi and the Angel (note the perfect feet) holding the light which has guided the kings thither.

Burne-Jones, one of the brotherhood of Pre-Raphaelite artists which included Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Everett Millais and William Holman Hunt, had painted the Magi on several previous occasions. He was a man of religious sensibilities, but the image of the newborn babe safe in the arms of his mother may have had particular resonance for him.

Born in Birmingham in 1833, his own mother died four days after his birth, and his gloomy father could never bring himself to show affection for the son who had cost his wife's life.

Then, as a young married man himself, Burne-Jones and his wife Georgiana experienced the loss of a child through stillbirth (caused by scarlet........

© Belfast Telegraph