Since this post is something of an epitaph for Maria Zambaco, I think it more appropriate to leave her clothed and to make some attempt at examining her as a real woman rather than any of the mythological figures (save one) for which she was posed. With one exception, I believe that the images of her that I am using this week are study sketches (and one painting) executed by Edward Burne-Jones, the artist for whose paintings she gathered the most attention and controversy.
I see her life as something of a multiple choice question. Was she:
a) a victim of exploitation?
b) an accomplice in her own exploitation?
c) both of the above?
d) none of the above?
I cannot assign a correct answer to this question with any confidence. In matters of artistic taste, nude portraits are often considered acceptable, but not all people would agree on this. Maria was herself an artist and a fairly accomplished one. She was also headstrong and wealthy, so it is difficult to imagine her being forced into much of anything against her will. However, being willing need not be exclusive of being exploited. I would hope that her true personality would be closer to the impressions I gather from the following portrait: intelligence, pensiveness, dignity.
On the one hand, her decisions and strong will would indicate that she was not a victim of exploitation. On the other, certain behaviors and events in her life might be considered symptomatic of someone who was. Her attempt to involve Burne-Jones in a suicide pact after he backed out of a decision to leave his wife does not strike me as the expression of a self-assured and independent spirit. Representations of her body were also displayed very publicly.
I question the assumption that women truly empower themselves within a male-dominated system by taking ownership of sexualized stereotypes and roles assigned to them by that system.
In looking at various aspects of her personality as described by other commentators, I cannot say that I understand who this striking woman truly was. She remains, for me, an enigma. Maria, may you rest in peace.