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Edward Burne-Jones’ Mythical Paintings

The Pygmalion of the Pre-Raphaelite Painters

Liana De Girolami Cheney

This book focuses on Sir Edward Burne-Jones’ mythical paintings from 1868 to 1886. His artistic training and traveling experiences, his love for the Greek-sculptress, Maria Zambaco, and his aesthetic sensibility provided the background for these mythical paintings. This book analyzes two main concepts: Burne-Jones’ assimilation of Neoplatonic ideal beauty as depicted in his solo and narrative paintings, and Burne-Jones’ fusion of the classical and emblematic traditions in his imagery.


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Part I. Paragone: Edward Burne-Jones and Italian Renaissance Artists


PART I Paragone: Edward Burne-Jones and Italian Renaissance Artists CHAPTER ONE Paragone: Edward Burne-Jones and Italian Renaissance Artists The purpose of the chapters in Part I is to reveal in Edward Burne-Jones’ imagery the influence of Italian Renaissance ideals by employing a comparative theoretical discussion or artistic comparison, i.e., a paragone. In the two chapters, a paragone on the aesthetic ideals of love and beauty is articulated between Botticelli and Francesco Colonna, Italian Renaissance artists, and Burne-Jones, a Pre-Raphaelite painter. For Italian Renaissance artists and humanists, paragone is associated with an aesthetic theory relating to the merits of comparing the visual arts (architecture, painting and sculpture), in particular the superiority of painting over sculpture. In his writings, Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519), for example, emphasizes the superiority of painting because “the sculptor’s work entails greater physical effort and the painter’s greater mental effort.”1 He compares the way in which a painter may work in fine clothes while listening to music, whereas the sculptor sweats while working, and his work is noisy. In contrast, sculptors like Michelangelo praise the greatness of sculpture because of its permanence, due to the materials employed, and the visualization of the object in three- dimension instead of the two-dimension of painting. Debates on the explanation of this paragone are crystallized in 1547 when Florentine Dante scholar Benedetto Varchi (1503–65) presents a lecture on this topic and invites artists to express their views on the superiority of painting or of sculpture.2 Among the Florentine artists...

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