Artibus et Historiae no. 83 (XLII)

2021, ISSN 0391-9064

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LIANA DE GIROLAMI CHENEY - Edward Burne-Jones’s The Legend of the Briar Rose: A poema d’arte about Mysterious Dormancy (pp. 333–360)

In 1862, Myles Birket Foster commissioned Morris, Marshall, Faulkner and Company to design ceramic tiles for his new house in Witley. Under William Morris’s guidance and with Edward Burne-Jones’s artistry, they composed nine sets of drawings for a Sleeping Beauty cycle to be transformed into ceramic tiles. Burne-Jones designed scenes for the children’s legend, Lucy Faulkner Orrinsmith painted the tiles, and Morris decorated the background and borders. After the success of this project, Burne-Jones composed several additional cycles of paintings on this theme between 1873 and 1894: the ‘Small Briar Rose Cycle’, the ‘Large Briar Rose Cycle’, the ‘Dispersed Briar Rose Cycle’, and solo paintings on the Sleeping Princess.

In the Sleeping Beauty cycles, Burne-Jones and William Morris were inspired by fairy tales from Giambattista Basile’s Sun, Moon, and Talia, Charles Perrault’s La Belle au Bois Dormant, the early nineteenth-century German version of the tale by the Brothers Grimm, and the poems by Alfred Tennyson (The Day-Dream, 1830/1842), Algernon Charles Swinburne (The Ballad of Life, 1866), Dante Gabriel Rossetti (The Day Dream, 1880), and William Morris (The Briar Wood, 1888 and 1891).

The three parts of this essay each elucidate a different aspect of the imagery of these cycles: Burne-Jones’s literary sources for his illustrations; a brief historiography and iconography of this theme; and the program of the cycles for Burne-Jones’s Legend of the Briar Rose, including an iconological interpretation of dormancy.

Burne-Jones’s color palette, languid lines, and spatial illusions unite the narrative scenes that make up these cycles and also create an imagery of suspension for the viewer. Within this unusual aesthetic moment, he expressed his reflections on art, beauty, and love through fantasy.

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