The Heart of the Rose

The Mirror of Venus by Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, Bt ARA. 1898. Oil on canvas, 47 1/2 x 78 3/4 inches. Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon.

According to Christopher Wood, "No picture illustrates better Burne-Jones's unique genius for blending together the two traditions of Pre-Raphaelitism and the Italian Renaissance into a new aesthetic style than The Mirror of Venus. The scene is purely imaginary, and shows Venus and her maidens gazing at their reflections in a pool of water. The landscape is arid and rocky; these strangely lunar landscapes were to become a recurring feature of his art, widely imitated by his followers. The mood and the colour are Pre-Raphaelite, but the conscious sweetness and elegance of the figures recall the Italian Renaissance, and, in particular, Botticelli, an artist greatly admired by Burne-Jones, and later to become a cult among fashionable aesthetes. The conception is purely aesthetic — a ring of beautiful girls in lovely draperies, with a minimum of narrative of historical content. The draperies are pseudo-classical, and the title is Venus, but the picturer could equally have been given a vague allegorical title. Through the faces of the girls and their wistful expressions Burne-Jones conveys that feeling of intense sadness and nostalgia for the past that pervades so many late Pre-Raphaelite pictures" (Pre-Raphaelites, p. 119).

Related Material


Wood, Christopher. Olympian Dreamers: Victorian Classical Painters, 1860-1914. London: Constable, 1983.

Wood, Christopher. The Pre-Raphaelites. New York: Studio/Viking, 1981.

Last modified 8 November 2007