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Dahesh Museum of Art adds newly acquired painting into exhibition at Museum of Biblical Art
Frederic Lord Leighton’s Star of Bethlehem has American Debut in Sacred Visions: Nineteenth-Century Biblical Art from the Dahesh Museum Collection.

NEW YORK, NY.- On Friday, November 8, 2013, Sotheby’s announced the top-ten sales results for its auction of 19th-Century European art. Included in that list was Frederic, Lord Leighton’s imposing Star of Bethlehem, purchased by the Dahesh Museum of Art, together with three other important paintings by other artists and complementing four artworks by Leighton already in the collection. The subject matter fits so perfectly within the scope of the current exhibition, Sacred Visions: Nineteenth-Century Biblical Art from the Dahesh Museum Collection, on view until February 16, 2014 at the Museum of Biblical Art, that curators and directors from each institution immediately agreed to add the painting to the current installation, an opportunity not to be missed.

“Yes, we know that this is not often done,” said Amira Zahid, founding trustee of the Dahesh Museum of Art and head of the acquisitions committee, “but who knows when we might have the chance to show this remarkable work within its proper context. So we seized the moment. Luckily, this large work is in great condition, has a lovely frame, and both our Museum and MOBIA are blessed with an enthusiastic, nimble staff of registrars, preparators, curators and exhibition designers. We worked together to make this change happen as quickly and seamlessly as possible.”

Richard P. Townsend, the Museum of Biblical Art’s director, commented “We are delighted to include this marvelous painting by one of the 19th century’s great artists in our exhibition. This reappraisal was made clear by the 1996 Royal Academy show and is quite apparent in this picture’s daring perspective and lush palette.”

According to Dahesh’s Associate Curator Alia Nour, “Our collaboration with MOBIA has been very productive from the start, so when I called Adrianne Rubin, my counterpart at MOBIA, we decided to remove two smaller paintings to make room for this very large one and started to work on a new label. We deemed it worthwhile to give visitors access to one of the most powerful biblical works Leighton produced during the 1860s.”

The Star of Bethlehem was last exhibited in 1996 in London at the Royal Academy of Arts’ major exhibition, Frederic Leighton 1830-1896. It was first shown there in 1862 and again in 1897, a year after his death. (Leighton was a member of the Royal Academy and its president from 1878 until his death in 1896.) Even then, no one was absolutely sure it depicted one of the three Magi, but there is no doubt the subject is a king (shown half-lifesize), who gazes at the Star’s mysterious, summoning light from the battlements of his palace. With crown in hand, as if leaving behind his worldly office, he stares into the distance--back to the spectator--involved in a journey of his own.

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