Burne Jones and the Italian Aesthetic Turn

A Victorian point of view over Classicism

1 SEPTEMBER 2017,
Edward Burne Jones, The Mirror of Venus
Edward Burne Jones, The Mirror of Venus

The pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was created at the end of the XIX century in England, in order to abandon the strict rules of the Royal Academy of Arts in London. The artists involved made it with bombastic results, gaining the attention of such important critics as Ruskin, who was also to become their mentor and patron. Some years later, the male nude of Phyllis and Demophon caused the academic expulsion of the late pre-Raphaelite Edward Burne Jones, while – in the same years at the end of the XIX century - the Brotherhood was accused of expressing an excessive decadent spirit both in their paintings and their writing productions, which were thought to be too redundant.

Hence, Burne Jones’ decision of a voluntary exile in Italy where he was finally able to study the Renaissance Maestros techniques, adding ‘softer’ elements to his symbolist painting. His protagonists become more hesitant, thoughtful and vaguely effeminate: a Victorian point of view over Classicism. At the same time, such writers as Walter Pater and John Addington Symonds favour a return to ancient Greece and classic mythology.

According to this new point of view, the last trip to Italy made by Burne Jones together with William Morris is not particularly fruitful but allows them to reconcile with the pre-Raphaelite Spencer Stanhope (who permanently moved to Florence) and Fairfax Murray in Siena. Once he returned to England he completed different masterpieces: Love among the Ruins, Laus Veneris and Perseus through which he has completely achieved his artistic maturity. These huge canvases give him the idea of opening a studio in the renaissance style. However, the difficulty of the project itself and the returning depressive mood are to be considered as the reasons why for the many incomplete works.

At the beginning of the 70s – however – his works are also full of new creative topics and lead him toward his first monographic exhibition at the Grosvenor Gallery in London, with bright coloured and symbolist canvases, still keeping their bi-dimensional effect that makes them look like frescoes. The aesthetic approach is visible in The Mirror of Venus which embraces Renaissance and Preraphaelism, depicting Venus and her maids admiring their own reflection in the water, in the background an insidious mountain scenery. The setting is purely pre-Raphaelite but the protagonists come from the Renaissance, while the choice of reducing historic details to the minimum emphasizes the use of the colour and the decorations are fully aesthetic.

A glance at the past and exotic background are romantic elements which are easily found in Love among the Ruins, in the languid gaze of the two lovers immersed into the wilderness.