Edward Coley Burne-Jones. "Portrait of María Zambaco". (1870). All rights reserved.

I have always been atracted by the similarity of the female faces in the paintings of a concrete painter, most of all in Pre-Raphaelite movement. These faces seems to represent the ideal beauty for the artist and he repeats this face again and again in their works.

I´ve mentioned Pre-Raphaelites cause they are a group that arouses the ethereal side of female beauty, and there is also endogamy in the models that pose for them. Affairs, romances, all inside the brotherhood. Maybe the most famous case is Elisabeth Siddal, famous model that posed for the most famous painting: Ophelia by John Everett Millais. Recently BBC has produced a TV series about the lifes and loves of Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, entitled Desperate Romantics.

In this post I want to approximate to another case, not so wellknown, but very interesting too: the painter Edward Coley Burne-Jones –a late Pre-Raphaelist- and his muse María Zambaco.

First of all to mentions a few lines about the life of this muse. She was born in London in 1843 in a rich family anglo-greek, she married Demetrius Zambaco in 1861 and together moved to live in Paris. She divorced and came back to London in 1866 where she met for the first time Burne-Jones. They started an adulterous affair, just because Burne-Jones married with his wife Georgiana. But Burne-Jones fell in love with María desperately, and he didn´t forget this love in all his life. The painter maintained both relationships for a long time but in a moment had to deceide. Even María and Burne-Jones tryed to suicide together in 1869 but finally their love for life was higher than their romantic ideals. This is a Shakespeare-like story, following the romantic ideas of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Finally, Burne-Jones come back home with her wife, though sporadically met María who posed again for him.

María practised art too. She started to sculpt in the 80’s decade, first in Alones Legros Academy in London and then in Paris where she was pupil of Rodin. María Zambaco diede in Paris in 1914.

Zambaco appears many times in the work of Burne-Jones. The love that felt Burne-Jones was reflected in his paintings, as a way of sublimation. Officially he only paint once María Zambaco in 1870, but her face can be found constantly in many series of paintings from Burne-Jones, hidden behind mythological names.

Edward Coley Burne-Jones. "Pygmalion" series. (1868). All rights reserved.

First, the series about Pygmalion myth, which talks about the tale o fan sculptor that created a female statue so perfect that he fell in love with her. His love was so incredible that Gods made possible that the statue came to life. This tale is identified with the love story between Burne-Jones and María Zambaco. For him, María is the statue, but unfortunately in his life he can only watch her but not to possess her. It´s a beautiful metaphor about his impossible love.

Edward Coley Burne-Jones. “The beguilling of Merlin”. (1872-77). All rights reserved.

The face of María appears in other paintings that reflects their imposible love. For instance The beguilling of Merlin reflects clearly this fact, using this time an Arturic tale. Burne-Jones is behind Merlin that has surrendered to an spell from the witch Nimue, which face looks like María. Burne-Jones has been captivated, enchanted, and down his knees to her. Maria Zambaco, though she is a real woman, is a godess for Burne-Jones, he cannot do anithing, she is possesed by her.

Edward Coley Burne-Jones. “Phyllis and Demophoon”. (1870). All rights reserved.

Another similar story appears in Phyllis and Demophoon, based in a greek tale. Phyllis, queen of Trace, falls in love with Demophoom, son of Theseus, who promisses to come back to her after six months. The time goes by, more than six months, and Phyllis deceide to commit suicide hanging. The gods watch this and deceide to convert her in an almond tree. A few time later Demophoon comes back and knows the sad reality and, very sad, hugh a tree lamenting his cruel fate. So, the gos let Phyllis comes back to life and hugs Demophoon.

It´s a recurrent theme: imposible love that succeds in mythology but fails in the real world.

María Zambaco is, for Burne-Jones, a love that deceided to refuse. However, this love will subjugate him for all his life. This makes that Burne-Jones sublimate this love by painting arturic and greek tales that represents his impossible love for María Zambaco.


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