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.

Coming soon | Star Trail | The National Gallery, London (2016-11-18) by The National Gallery, LondonThe National Gallery, London

The Virgin and Child with Saints Dominic and Aurea (about 1312-15 (?)) by DuccioThe National Gallery, London

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.

The Evening Star (about 1830) by Joseph Mallord William TurnerThe National Gallery, London

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.

The Ambassadors (1533) by Hans Holbein the YoungerThe National Gallery, London


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.

The Origin of the Milky Way (about 1575) by Jacopo TintorettoThe National Gallery, London

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.

The Adoration of the Kings (1510-15) by Jan Gossaert (Jean Gossart)The National Gallery, London

Guiding stars

The most popular type of
star in the collection can be found in representations of the nativity of

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.

The Adoration of the Kings (1649) by Carlo DolciThe National Gallery, London

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.

The Adoration of the Kings ("about 1480") by Filippino LippiThe National Gallery, London

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

Coming soon | Star Trail | The National Gallery, London (2016-11-18) by The National Gallery, LondonThe National Gallery, London

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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