Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones' oil painting The Wheel of Fortune portrays a giant wheel, turned by Dame Fortune, carrying the three nude figures — presumably a king, a poet, and a slave, as indicated by the crown and laurel wreath. The foreground takes up almost all of the view, leaving only a small portion free in the upper left corner to show a wall and tree beneath a grey sky. Dame Fortune towers above the three men, her heavy clothing and cap covering most of her body in contrast to the almost complete nudity of the mortals. Their faces seem strangely void of expression, Dame Fortune gazing down dispassionately and both the slave and king looking into the distance. Only the poet looks, not at Fortune's face but at her feet, with a mildly pleading air. The figures are reminiscent of Michelangelo's works as well as the ancient Greek and Roman sculptures he based his work on, with their idealized bodies and Dame Fortune's distinctive contrapposto pose.
1. Various shades of brown dominate this painting when perhaps another artist would have used brighter colors when portraying a figure such as Fortune. Why did Burne-Jones choose such muted colors? Were they to set a certain tone, or was there another message he meant to broadcast?
2. It seems that the lowest male, wearing the laurel leaves, and the center male, wearing the crown and bearing a scepter, would be the poet and king, respectively. If this is so, then the slave stands higher than both the poet and the king; in fact, he stands on the head of the king in order to reach his lofty position. Why would Burne-Jones put the slave above the other two?
3. The simplicity of the wheel, though fitting with the rest of the composition, seems different that would be expected of the Wheel that guides peoples' lives. What may have influenced the artist's depiction of such an important part of people's lives and destinies?
4. Pre-Raphaelite paintings typically showed women with long, wavy, richly hued tresses. Burne-Jones' Dame Fortune, however, hides her hair in a helmet, or cap. Why would he choose to do so?
Last modified 28 October 2004