22 July 2009

Burne-Jones's Perseus Series

In my last series of posts based on Ovid's Metamorphoses, we looked at pictures of Danae. Let's turn our attention now to her son, Perseus. Ovid tells two main stories about Perseus in Book IV: Perseus and Atlas and Perseus and Andromeda, with the story of Perseus and Medusa told in flashback as a coda. Book V starts with a fight between the supporters of Perseus and the supporters of Phineus, Andromeda's former fiance. (The picture of Sir Edward Burne-Jones is a photogravure based on a portrait of him by his son Philip. It is in the public domain and comes from wikicommons.)

The story of Perseus and Andromeda in particular proved a prolific source of inspiration for artists, but we'll start with a wider look at the whole story as shown in a series of paintings by Sir Edward Burne-Jones. He was commissioned to produce a series of large paintings based on the story of Perseus for Arthur Balfour. Although the series of paintings was never finished, a series of cartoons or studies for the pictures are now in the Southampton City Art Gallery. The completed paintings in the series are now in Stuttgart's Staatsgalerie, which has the pictures online, but hasn't seen fit to provide any way of linking to them. They are currently on loan to the Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery. Those who intend being in Stuttgart from 24 November 2009 to 7 February 2010 might wish to go to a Burne-Jones exhibition the Staatsgalerie is planning.

The completed paintings are The Call of Perseus:



Perseus and the Sea Nymphs:



Perseus and the Graiae:



The Finding of Medusa:



The Death of Medusa:



The Rock of Doom:



The Doom Fulfilled:



The Baleful Head:



Two pictures for which studies exist in Southampton but which do not have completed versions in Stuttgart are Atlas Turned to Stone and another version of The Death of Medusa.

Burne-Jones's pictures were based on William Morris's The Doom of King Acrisius. The Victorian Web has a series of pages pairing the Stuttgart pictures with the relevant parts of the poem and a series of essays and questions to ponder about the paintings (scroll down to find the index: the list may not look like links but they are).

Burne-Jones combined variations on "The Rock of Doom" and "The Doom Fulfilled" in 1876 to produce a painting called "Perseus and Andromeda", which is now in Adelaide's Art Gallery of South Australia.

3 comments:

Tony said...

Many thanks for showing the whole series here. Having seen them recently on loan in England from Stuttgart, the visual impact full size is amazing!

Regards, Tony Kline

RWMG said...
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RWMG said...

I do miss being able to go these things sometimes. Thanks for dropping by, Tony.