Portrait of Maria Theresa Zambaco

Edward Burne-Jones (1833 1898)

Date
1870
Medium
Gouache on cardboard
Dimensions
Height: 76.3 cm
Width: 55 cm
Inscription
Monogrammed on lower right: EBJ / P?; marked on lower middle of the picture: Mary Aetat XXVI August 7th, 1870 EBJ pinxit
Inventory Number
1968Ma106
Acquisition
Purchased in 1968

Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his student Edward Burne-Jones were both highly fascinated by the young painter and sculptor Maria Theresa Zambaco, whom they both immortalized in 1870. In Rossetti's painting she is shown by her delicate skin, which shines through the robe similar to an ancient Greek chlamys, in the type of "femme fragile" so popular with the Pre-Raphaelites. While Rossetti negates any concrete reference to the location of the portrait in order to celebrate Zambaco’s individual beauty in a timeless context, Burne-Jones creates a painted declaration of love. Cupid, the god of love, pushes aside the curtain to to reveal the view of her. The liaison between Burne-Jones, who was married, and the divorcée Zambaco was a scandal at the time and culminated in desperate suicide threats by Zambaco. Burne-Jones uses flowers to express the emotional con flict of the lovers. Behind Zambaco is a blue iris, which since the Middle Ages had symbolized the purity of the Virgin Mary. In her left hand the former lover holds a dittany flower, also known as ‘burning bush’ in the Bible. It stands for sensuality and consuming passion. In the prayer book beneath Zambaco’s hands Burne-Jones is citing his own 1865 watercolor "The Love Song". In the painting-in-a-painting a woman is enchanting her wooers by playing on the organ – just as Zambaco beguiled the painter in real life.

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