In 1886 the rector of Exeter College, Oxford, commissioned William Morris to make a tapestry for the college chapel. The subject proposed – an Adoration of the Magi – was immediately approved by William Morris and his fellow artist Edward Burne-Jones. Two years later, they delivered the preliminary sketch of the tapestry. Edward Burne-Jones drew the figures, producing a large watercolor and gouache model in 1887; the cartoons followed in 1888. Morris added detail and color, with his craftsman-assistant John Henry Dearle.
This composition was the first that Burne-Jones had explicitly designed for a tapestry. Previously, pieces woven from his designs by the weavers in the workshops set up by Morris in 1881 at Merton Abbey were adapted from preliminary sketches for stained glass. After two years on the loom at Merton Abbey, the Morris & Co factory, the tapestry was presented to Exeter College in 1890 as a gift from the artists. The Adoration of the Magi delighted Morris, who had a great admiration for this beautiful craft, and a fascination for the world of medieval guilds. He then declared: "Nothing better of the kind [...] has ever been done, old or new". Critics and art lovers alike shared this enthusiasm, and nine versions of the tapestry were commissioned between 1890 and 1907.