Like his fellow Pre-Raphaelite artists, Edward Burne-Jones’ paintings often included an array of mythological subjects, from ancient Greece to the bible. Burne-Jones was extremely interested in mythology from a young age, creating a dream world for himself to compensate for his harsh upbringing at the hands of the strict housekeeper. This fascination with myths, particularly the Arthurian legend, continued for his whole life and Burne-Jones’ art was reaction against the `moral ugliness’ of the industrial world he grew up in, where realism had taken over in art. Julia Cartwright wrote in `The Art Annual’ of 1894 that `the art of Burne-Jones from first to last has been a silent and unconscious protest against the most striking tendencies of the modern world’. Burne-Jones’ work is nostalgic and he wanted to bring the beauty, passion and spirit of these classic myths back to art.
Burne-Jones was particularly inspired during a visit to Italy where he saw the work of early renaissance artists, Michelangelo, Botticelli, and Mantegna. He admired the way they painted with rich colours and particularly how they, especially Botticelli, treated the human form. Botticelli is famous for his depictions of nude women. Many of the idiosyncratic features of Burne-Jones work – the way the paint is lightly applied, the limited palette of soft and rich colours, the strong emphasis on line and the way he elongates the figure – were inspired by the artists of the early renaissance.
Burne-Jones elongates the figure to an almost angelic height, giving his subjects a heavenly quality. This can be seen in `The Annunciation’. The slender, long figure of Mary, combined with the flowing white gown, emphasise her innocence and beauty. The canva…
…uld not have noticed her primroses, the combination of the silvery oysters and the blue paper would not for a moment have struck him as beautiful; he had not the painter’s eye.’ Burne-Jones was unique as did not use what he saw in front of him to paint, but looked beyond and pulled out details of a story or certain aspects of a model in which to inspire him. He had specific ideas about how each aspect of the stories he loved should look and he wanted the paintings to celebrate the history of them. Art historian, Robin Ironside, said that `he did not believe in didactic art … the spectator is simply asked to share the dream.’ He wanted people to begin appreciating the myths again, and to appreciate his own ideas about what is beautiful. He did not paint what was obvious but used his own imagination and romantic sentiments to idealise the beauty in his paintings.