Mythology on Canvas: Mythological Model (3)

It is difficult to see Maria Zambaco as a victim of exploitation when one gets a hint of how headstrong she seems to have been. That combined with her wealth and her skill as an artist push me toward believing that her life may have been more about psychology and morals than it was about sociology and the treatment of women. That she fit in with the trends of the times, however, seems rather obvious to me.

Venus Epithalamia by Edward Burne-Jones
Venus Epithalamia by Edward Burne-Jones

The willful participation of women in a system that limits the roles and portrayals of women becomes more nuanced when it is done to increase their individual power. Or is it really power if it plays to male fantasies? And what about the rest of women who must deal with the fallout of disagreeable male attitudes that have been catered to and encouraged?

This week, I will present a series of paintings by Edward Burne-Jones with Maria as the featured model. This particular series is referred to as the Pygmalion cycle. Click on the image to enlarge the pictures of all four paintings.


This is yet another adaptation of a story from The Metamorphoses by Ovid. As is typically the case with Roman mythology, it is based on an earlier tale from Greek mythology. A sculptor falls in love with the statue he has created, and Venus, the goddess of love, brings the sculpture in question to life for him. Maria appears to be the model for each of the characters in these paintings: Pygmalion, Venus, and the statue/woman.

I have thought about how many of my gender may have a good bit of Pygmalion in them. A man may fall in love, not with a woman as she really is, but as he has imagined her. His imaginative fantasies use her as a blank canvas or un-carved block of marble on which he can create a person who doesn’t really exist. The obvious shame of this is that the poor woman must often deal with the fallout of such false expectations, but I see as the greatest shame the fact that a man fails to experience and appreciate the many dimensions or facets that a real woman can give to a relationship. I say this as a married man whose wife of 37 years never ceases to surprise and amaze him.

Next week: another series of paintings featuring Maria.

11 thoughts on “Mythology on Canvas: Mythological Model (3)”

      1. Oh … so sorry! My misunderstanding. 🙂 Yes, I did click on the images … but for some reason I thought this was the beginning of a new series of posts. Again, sorry for the mistake. I really enjoy your offerings very much! Take care and God bless!

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Your closing thought on the Pygmalion syndrome is very perceptive. Of course a lot of great art–not only painting–has resulted from this syndrome. Inspired by a woman he does not truly know, a poet or novelist or song-writer might create a great work which amazes the world. He remains in love with his creation and wonders why his muse has no affection for him. I’m sure that it happens all the time. J.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I’m really enjoying your series on this model and how her art (because I do regard figure modeling as its own art) tangled up her life. Thanks for this.

    Also, there are plenty of women who are waiting for the prince to come and rescue them, so don’t be hard on your fellow men if they have idealistic and romantic visions.

    Liked by 2 people

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