Sunday, November 6, 2016

Art as a Creative Endeavor : Edward Burne-Jones

Phyllis and Demophoon by Edward Burne-Jones, 1870
watercolor on paper,  93.8 x 47.5 cm (36.9 x 18.7 in)

The Tree of Forgiveness by Edward Burne-Jones, 1882
oil on canvas, 190.5 × 106.7 cm (75 × 42 in)

In 1870, Edward Burne-Jones exhibited Phyllis and Demophoon
Phyllis, Queen of Thrace, falls in love with Demophoon, son of Theseus. He departs but promises to return in six months' time. When he fails to keep his promise, Phyllis hangs herself, and is turned by the gods into an almond tree. On his eventual return, Demophoon remorsefully embraces the tree, which blooms, as Phyllis emerges to forgive and reclaim her faithless lover.
Both Phyllis and Demophoon are modelled on Maria Zambaco, with whom Burne-Jones had been having an affair since June 1868 (a host of studies exist for both figures, in various locales). And for this reason, in conjunction with Demophoon's nudity, a controversy ensued when it was exhibited at the Old Watercolour Society for the Summer Exhibition of 1870. Within two weeks of the exhibition's opening, Burne-Jones withdrew the painting due to complaints, and two works by other artists were exhibited in its place. In August 1870, Burne-Jones resigned from the Society, over artistic integrity.
In the catalogue for the Summer Exhibition at the Old Watercolour Society, Burne-Jones included the following caption, a quote from Ovid: 'Dic mihi quid feci? Nisi non sapienter amavi' [Tell me what I have done? I loved unwisely.] Burne-Jones later reworked the painting entirely in oils, transforming the bodies of both Phyllis and Demophoon into an homage to Michelangelo, calling it 'The Tree of Forgiveness' (1882, Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight), where Zambaco's face remains only on Phyllis.

The Tree of Forgiveness, 12 years later,  is about life sized. The figures are not identical to the previous version but they are remarkably similar and the concept is the identical. The colors are different. in the 1870 painting Demophoon looks slight and ashen.

The drapery in Phyllis and Demophoon covered Phyllis' body along with her arm covering her breast and the magical drapery wrapped itself around Demophoon's leg without providing him any modesty (modesty in the sense of avoiding impropriety or indecency but modest in the sense of "a small amount" could be used to describe him). In contrast, in The Tree of Forgiveness magical drapery covers his manhood and flowingly wraps around his leg and only his leg while she is exposed fully nude.

It is interesting that Michelangelo depicted women by drawing men and the "feminizing" them and Burne-Jones in Phyllis and Demophoon drew a woman and then "masculinized" the figure.

An attempt to show the scale of the pictures.

below the fold is an animated gif contrasting the two.

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