In The Beguiling of Merlin, Burne-Jones has the two Arthurian legends situated close amidst curving hawthorne trees and withering bushes. Nimuë, the Lady of the Lake, is shown with her back to Merlin-who, although is probably best known for his flowing robes and wizardly gray beard, is shown leaning back submissively, casting a look of equal scorn and longing at the woman.
Burne-Jones renders characteristics of Nimuë as embodiments of the fatal woman-her tall, twisting form, audacious stance; but also infuses other tactics into the figures: The Da Vinci-like simplicty of Nimuë's profile, and also the departure of the highly-prioritized realism favored by members of the PRB early on. This is seen in the sinuous boughs of the tree, with the brushwork almost following the outlines of Nimuë's exquisitely draped gown; as well as the flowers sprouting in both the back and foreground.
By juxtaposing the colors dominating the figures — rich, velvety indigo and violet-and the achromatic shades of bone, beige, and green in the background, Jones manages to create a mood of confinement; a claustrophobic environment that foresees the betrayal and imprisonment of the heedless Merlin by his own Lady of the Lake.
1. Nimuë used one of Merlin's own spells to ensnare and imprison him into a tower; and although Merlin's helpless entrapment calls to mind that of the Victorian male poet, Nimuë is portrayed as a calculating, coy woman; something that refuses to be reduced to a simple figment of a man's imagination. Is she in any way a departure from the Femme Fatale, or is this simply an exception rooted in Jones's personal life?
2. In what way does the painting suggest Renaissance techniques? How does] Burne-Jones departing from the Pre-Raphaelite embodiment?
3. For a man who spent much of his early career under the influence of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, is there a particluar aspect of the painting that especially stands out, in regards to Rossetti's technique?
4. Compare this to Merlin and Nimuë. although Nimuë is still presented as a Femme Fatale, Merlin's countenance, while still passive, is different. Instead of a disdainful glare, he has his hand to his heart, and his face is troubled and apprehensive. Why is this so?
Wood, Christopher. The Pre-Raphaelites. New York: Studio/Viking, 1981.
Last modified 22 October 2006