King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid – Study by Edward Burne-Jones

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Painting NameKing Cophetua and the Beggar Maid - Study
Painter NameEdward Burne-Jones
Completion Date1883
Size37 x 72.3 cm (14.57" x 28.46")
TechniqueGum Arabic
Current LocationCollection of Andrew Lloyd-Webber

King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid - Study by Edward Burne-Jones Sir Edward Burne-Jones was a man of accomplishment, but stuck to his style in an era when prices of materials kept sliding downwards and machinery was becoming available for everyone. He kept contributing in the fashion he delivered best – painting. Burne-Jones’ has also contributed to his popularity through stained and painted glass, drawings, decorative arts and theatre.

Burne Jones took the time and effort to paint a story that arguably has a lot to do with the contemporary emotions. King Cophetua is a wealthy man – although he lived in a time about which little is known. But there is a lot to know from his love for the ‘beggar woman’, a character we have occurring on the streets of England quite frequently in the 19th Century, and why he wooed her, or what might have been his kink if any. It is vital to be noted that the king had little attraction for the women his kin would expect or even hope.

Burne Jones is a man who would go beyond kink – perhaps into economics, poverty and even something called a love-meter as I see it. While the mean definition of love has engulfed the idea of richness, romanticism and illusive feelings, Cophetua seems to be highly oblivious to all of that. Legend has it that Cophetua found his love in distress while begging and in a lack of clothes. Beauty he beheld, but was it of a debatably unacceptable nature for today’s man also?

We have celebrated love between the rich and poor on the screen, and the painting is a rather Victorian depiction of what might have been happening between the two. For what we know, the woman had agreed to marry him immediately after he proposed to her. Moreover, she had become queen, and perhaps happy to shed away all her past debris. Living a quiet life, the king and her ‘beggar maid’ enjoyed every bit of it, suggests Burne-Jones through the demureness of their postures.

I see the following aspects in spotlight – Cophetua (a medieval man) – would perhaps never feel ‘love’ or something romantically carnal unless there was some pain showing in the other person. The woman was only too happy to get to a man who seemed touched, and she looked forward to the expected virility of a king. On the other hand, Burne-Jones thought it was important to show us the non-sexual aspects of their lives on this tall Guache and gum Arabic on paper.


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