The Wedding of Psyche by Edward Burne-Jones presents a striking foil to the very famous Mirror of Venus of about twenty years earlier. Both depict women in a barren landscape: a central female figure, each a standard of beauty, and their attendants. But the mood and psychology of the characters in The Wedding of Psyche shows a drastic change in Burne-Jones's style in the twenty years between the two paintings. This is particular striking because of the mythological relation between the two central figures: Venus, jealous of Psyche's beauty, condemned her to marry the most undesirable creature on earth.
Christopher Wood describes The Mirror of Venus as "purely aesthetic...the picture could equally well have been given a vague allegorical title" - nothing grounds the picture in a particular story. The Wedding of Psyche depicts a mythological event, and a gloomy one at that. While the figures in the Mirror are engrossed in their own reflections, escaping the outside world through their narcissism, the figures of the Wedding march from one side of the frame to the other in morose single-file. Rather than lost in their own reflections, the members of the Wedding party seem to be lost in their own thoughts: the figures look either forward or, in the case of Pscyhe, towards the barren floor. In this way, the barrenness of the background in the Mirror seems to suggest the relative ugliness of the outside world compared with the beauty of the central figures; in the Wedding the blue hues of the hilly background point to a bleak future for Psyche.
Though the figures in the Wedding are marching forward, they do not show any of the classical contrapposto that Burne-Jones favored so much in his earlier pieces. Burne-Jones reduces their drapery to medieval severity, the figures not only rigid in posture but also flat, almost androgynous, in physical composition. In the Mirror of Venus, Burne-Jones depicts Venus with Botticellian sensuality, her curving figure clearly visible under her flowing drapery.
1. How does Burne-Jones make use of color in each painting? What about his suggestion of the time of day?
2. The gloomy mood of the Wedding makes the scene more like funeral than Wedding. How do the instruments, flowers, and presence of the old man in the background contribute to this and what might they represent?
3. What do the lilies and the plant that Venus picks at represent?
4. What might be said of the fact that, though focused on entirely different thoughts, the expressions of the faces in the two paintings are very similar?
5. Did Burne-Jones want to draw a connection between the two paintings, or does the overlap between the two merely point to his fascination with classical subjects? Considering that Venus's status as god, but Psyche's status as the most beautiful woman on earth, what might account for Burne-Jones's very different depictions of the two?
Last modified 10 March 2008