According to Bill Waters,
the whole of Burne-Jones's work is concerned with the psychology of love. His first love for Georgiana MacDonald was uncomplicated and the paintings of the period 1858 to 1864 echo this. However, the femme fatale, which was only hinted at in the early work, dominates the content of his painting from the time of his affair with Maria [Zambaco.] Throughout the 1870s his work became increasingly pessimistic in philosophy even though his preoccupation with absoluite beauty did not diminish. This paradox is most apparent in the magnificent product of his middle period Laus Veneris (1873-78) . . . Venus Epithalamia shows how far Burne-Jones's design had moved from the quaintness of the works ten years earlier. The female nude divides the painitng into two halves, her sensuality predominates, whilst beyond, the recessed stairway and the procesession give the narrative justification for the picture. Such blatant sexuality is rare in Burne-Jones's work. [10-11]
Water further argues that the "disasterous climax" of the painter's affair with Zambaco, when she tried to commit suicide in public, "wrecked both their lives" and is directly apparent in Burne-Jones's art: "During the period of most unhappiness, from about 1870-1875, the angst felt by the lovers permeates the works he was creating; his figures became angular, their expression often painful and his lines became nervous, gestural and erratic" (12).
Waters, Bill. Burne-Jones -- A Quest for Love. [Works by Sir Edward Burne-Jones Bt and Related Works by Contemporary Artists]. London: Peter Nahum, 1993.
Last modified 30 July 2003