Stars illuminate the National Gallery Collection from beginning to end. You can find stars painted in skies, where you’d expect them to be. But they are also hidden in less obvious places.

Painting stars
Stars twinkle and shimmer throughout the collection. They are wonderful in their variety, and the many ways in which they have been painted are a delight to the eye. 

Some artists such as Duccio used real gold to reflect the shimmering light of heaven.

Turner's 'Evening Star' is barely discernible in the sky, and consists of thickly applied white paint.

The star's eye-catching reflection enlivens the surface of the sea.

Our fascination with the night sky can be tracked across the centuries through the collection.

Representations of the stars can be found on the celestial globe in Holbein's ‘Ambassadors’.

It is extraordinary to think that these people, from paintings made long ago, were looking at and trying to get to grips with, the same night sky that we can see today.

Myth-making stars
In Greek and Roman mythology, planets and constellations were often linked to gods and goddesses.

Titian’s 'Bacchus and Ariadne' features a crown of stars circling in the heavens above Ariadne’s head.

Whilst symbolic of Ariadne’s crown, which was fixed in the sky after her death, this is also a real constellation - the Corona Borealis.

Tintoretto minimised his representation of the Milky Way for maximum pictorial impact.

He imagined a galaxy of stars in greatly reduced form in order to fit into the picture - the magnitude of the Milky Way is represented with less than a dozen shooting stars.

Guiding stars
The most popular type of star in the collection can be found in representations of the nativity of Jesus.

According to Saint Matthew's Gospel, the three wise men or ‘magi’ followed the star from the East.

The star led them to the humble stable in Bethlehem.

Dolci’s guiding star in his 'Adoration of the Kings' bursts forth in resplendent light.

The star outshines any of the precious gifts presented to the baby by the Kings.

In contrast, Lippi’s golden star in his 'Adoration of the Kings' resembles a gold dust firework fading against a daytime sky.

Watch our Star Trail film series
Learn more about stars in the National Gallery Collection with our Star Trail YouTube series. Visit our YouTube page to find out more.

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