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Thursday, November 5, 2009

Life imitates Art, or Art imitates Life?

Prosperpine, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1874, modeled by Jane Burden

Yesterday's post reminded me of a book I read in the mid-90s called Pre-Raphaelites in Love by Gay Daly.  This book was such an eye-opener.  Both the front and back inside covers of my copy are filled with notes about who loved whom, who was married to whom, who lusted after whom, etc.  It was fascinating reading.   William Morris's personal life was no exception.  Morris fell in love with a stablehand's daughter named Jane Burden, who had been discovered by, and modeled for, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who was a founding member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and one of Morris's best friends.  Morris and Jane married but for many years Jane carried on an affair with Rossetti, with Rossetti even living in their home with them for a number of years.  All very unvictorian I would say.

This painting "The Tree of Forgiveness" by Edward Burne-Jones is on the hardcover edition of Daly's book.  The original is at the Lady Lever Gallery in Liverpool, England.  From their web site:

"After the conquest of Troy, Demopho├Ân stayed at the Thracian court where Phyllis, the king’s daughter, fell in love with him. They agreed to marry but he had first to return to Attica. He delayed there so long that Phyllis doubted he would ever return and killed herself. The gods turned her into an almond tree which here the penitent Demopho├Ân is embracing, to find the tree suddenly blossoming and Phyllis reappearing to him.  As so often with Burne-Jones, violent sexual passions — love, betrayal, remorse and forgiveness — are visualised within the context of myth and within an abstract linear design of great sophistication. This greatly enhances the expressive power of the story’s climax."

While Burne-Jones carried on a passionate affair with his greek model Maria Zambaco, his wife Georgiana found solace in the company of family friend William Morris.  It is speculated that they too may have had an affair.