Tag Archives: Saint George and the Dragon

Mythological Model – Julia vs. Maria

I wasn’t originally going to do this post, but I’ve had an interesting and enjoyable exchange with a gentleman named Erick Verran. He suggested to me that the model for the Perseus cycle (more specifically The Baleful Head) by Edward Burne-Jones could have been Julia Stephen, another Pre-Raphaelite model, rather than Maria Zambaco. This intrigued me, so I looked up information about Julia and was immediately struck by the similarities between her and the figures in the paintings.

julia-stephen-1

julia-stephen-2

Furthermore, searches for both women turn up  some of the same paintings. As yet another added item of interest, Julia Stephen was the mother of Virginia Woolf.  So what is the identity of the model in the Perseus cycle? Rather than an art scholar, I’m a biology professor messing around in my spare time, so I was reduced to analyzing profiles of chins and noses, which led me to favor, albeit irresolutely, Maria. This effort was complicated by my inability to find any photographs of Maria Zambaco, and Erick graciously sent me the following from a biography of Edward BurneJones titled The Last Pre-Raphaelite: Edward Burne-Jones and the Victorian Imagination (Harvard University Press, 2012) by Fiona MacCarthy.

maria-zambaco-photos-2

Notice the caption (click on the image). It states that these photographs are of a young Maria Zambaco and goes on to imply that her portrayals by Edward Burne-Jones apparently involve a certain amount fanciful embellishment. These certainly seem inconsistent also with appraisals by various of her contemporaries in which she is described as strikingly beautiful. They also appear inconsistent with portraits of her by Dante Gabriel Rosetti (shown in previous posts in this series). By comparison her features seem rounded and less angular. Please don’t judge me as a chauvinist. I understand that standards of beauty are debatable and overly narrow, but the paintings of Maria Zambaco and the aforementioned appraisals seem to fall within stereotypes of beauty for both that era and the present.

Then I was reminded of something I ran across by accident on the internet: photos of Jennifer Connelly at different ages in her career. I selected a couple of examples for this post.

jcy

jco

Notice that her face becomes noticeably leaner as she ages. The difference is even more pronounced in earlier photos. Keep in mind also that the photographs of Maria were from a time period when styles of technique and clothing could obscure the perception of feminine features. Of course, this does not change the fact that the photographs of Julia are rather striking. This leaves me with a problem of identification which is complicated by two factors: the tendency of an artist to make alterations to suit his subject matter and my continued inability to find photographs of Maria from the appropriate time period.

Finally, I did some cross-checking of dates and found that Julia was married in 1867 (one year after Edward and Maria met) and that the Perseus cycle was painted later during a time when Burne-Jones was almost exclusively using Maria as a model. By now, you are probably realizing that this is a rambling approach that proves nothing. In my exchanges with Erick, I had the nagging sense that I was out of my depth. Perhaps out of ignorance, I am still inclined to think that Maria was the model for the Perseus cycle and the series about Saint George and the Dragon (for which Julia is also sometimes credited as Sabra), but this is based on internet searches rather than real scholarship.

Sabra being led to the sacrifice
Sabra being led to the sacrifice
The Baleful Head by Edward Burne-Jones
The Baleful Head by Edward Burne-Jones

I will happily stand corrected if I have run afoul of a more definite identification.

Mythology on Canvas: Mythological Model (1)

Maria Zambaco is one of the most (perhaps the most) recognizable models of the Pre-Raphaelites. She sat for some portraits by Dante Gabriel Rosetti, one of the founding Pre-Raphaelite painters. An example is shown below.

zambaco-2

Here is another striking image in black and white by the same artist:

Portrait of a Lady by Dante Gabriel Rosetti
Portrait of a Lady by Dante Gabriel Rosetti

But her more famous exposure (no pun intended) was in a number of paintings by Edward Burne-Jones. In these, she was portrayed as a number of different characters from mythology in various states of dress. In the following examples, I am reminded of the similarity between the legends of Perseus slaying Cetus and Saint George slaying the dragon.

The Doom Fulfilled by Edward Burne-Jones
The Doom Fulfilled by Edward Burne-Jones
Saint George slaying the dragon after untying Sabra
Saint George slaying the dragon after untying Sabra

Born Maria Terpsithea Cassavetti on April 29, 1843, in London, she was the daughter of a wealthy Anglo-Hellenic merchant. She studied art, including a stint as a student of Auguste Rodin in Paris.  In the 1880s, she even worked as a sculptor, contributing some medallions to the British Museum, some of which are shown below.

zambaco-5

zambaco-4

But she is better known for her modeling. With dark red hair and very pale skin, this statuesque woman evidently had a very striking appearance.

Headstrong and independent she married Dr. Demetrius Zambaco and bore him two children, but the marriage was troubled and did not last. She moved back in with her mother in 1866, and it was her mother who commissioned Edward Burne-Jones to paint her as both cupid and psyche during that same year.

Cupid and Psyche by Edward Burne-Jones.
Cupid and Psyche by Edward Burne-Jones.

Although the artist would make several versions of this painting with Maria as a model, the above painting (as nearly as I can tell) is the commission that introduced him to her. And that started all the trouble…

(to be continued)

Mythology on Canvas (Part 12)

The legend of Saint George and the Dragon is said to have been brought to Europe from the Middle East by the crusaders. Whether intentionally or not, it bears some rather obvious parallels to the myth of Perseus slaying Cetus to rescue Andromeda. For this reason, I have chosen to show one last set of paintings by Edward Burne-Jones.

For those of you unfamiliar with the legend, it takes place in a region of Libya, where a dragon was plaguing the kingdom. The citizenry were sacrificing their daughters to the dragon by lottery, and the lot eventually fell on the king’s daughter (Sabra in some accounts). Saint George happens upon her while she is tied to a pole or tree, waits until the dragon appears, and eventually slays it. Here, then, in pictures is the story:

Sabra
Sabra
The lottery (with Sabra second in line)
The lottery (with Sabra second in line)
Sabra being led to the sacrifice
Sabra being led to the sacrifice
Sabra tied to the pole as the maidens depart
Sabra tied to the pole as the maidens depart
Saint George slaying the dragon after untying Sabra
Saint George slaying the dragon after untying Sabra
Saint George returning Sabra after defeating the dragon.(c) Bristol Museum and Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Saint George returning Sabra after defeating the dragon.(c) Bristol Museum and Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

I have refrained from commentary on individual paintings. Readers can parse out the elements of drama and irony for themselves. Simply looking at the pictures and captions is a bit like reading a comic book.

Next week: the beginning of a collection of paintings from our last artist.