The Unattainable Heart of the Rose


I attended Eugene’s Art Walk last night. At the New Zone Gallery, in walked a Bohemian Pre-Raphaelite vision. She looked like the model for Edward Burnes-Jones ‘Briar Rose’.  Around her waist and covering her derriere, was a mantle of sorts, whereon were fashioned roses twisted into the sweater-like material.

“You’re a very heavily textured person. I love everything your wearing, especially the rose shawl.”

I wanted to say ‘Fanny Shawl’.

“Where did you get it?” I asked.

“At the Belly Dancer Convention! she answered brightly.

“No you didn’t. You are lying!”

“Yes I did. I’m a Belly Dancer!”

“Why are you doing this to me? Do you know Caroline Quinn? I came to see her work. She’s a dancer. Do you know her?”

“I have heard of her. I’m a Quinn! My people come from England.” she proudly announced.

“Stop it! You’re a Jinn, come to take me back to the Net of Coincidence! This is too much. You look like an Edward Burne-Jones, the Pre-Raphaelite.

“What are they?”

“Give me your e-mail and I will show you. Can I take your picture?”

“I don’t think I am a hat person. I don’t wear one often.”

I take her photo and show her the top photo.

“Your are a born hat person!” I declared! And Rachel Quinn had to agree. Note the rose on Rachel’s hat and her strong chin. She has awoken from the Bower of the Briar Rose.

I walked out of the gallery, leaving Rachel talking to a living Garden Gnome with a great tangled beard. I did not want to lay on her the cursed family name ‘Rosamond’ lest the Gallery Gargoyles swoop down and make trouble for us. For here is Lady Rose. She has snuck out of Downton Abbey in search of young Bohemian Poet. Instead she has caught the eye of Victor Hugo, Balzack, and Titian. It was all I could do to stop from telling her;

“My grandmother made hats to support her four beautiful daughters. Her name was Mary Magdalene Rosamond. My mother was born Rosemary Rosamond. My sister was a famous artist who rendered beautiful women wearing……hats!”

“Oh look! There is George and Juaquin Miller, who last week had dinner with Rossetti.”

So, last time it was a glass slipper. This time it is – a hat?

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Jon Presco

Pre-Raphaelite Priest


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For Burne-Jones, art was life. The features of the women that he loved became imprinted on his artist’s imagination, so that a sequence of his paintings can tell us a whole emotional history. Sometimes the features of Burne-Jones’ desired women strike one as strangely interchangeable. In 1856, once he had moved to London, Burne-Jones became engaged to the fifteen-year-old daughter of a Wesleyan minister. He had known the family since they had lived in Birmingham and went to school with Georgiana’s brother. Throughout what became a frustratingly long engagement, since Burne-Jones had no means of supporting a wife, he was drawing and painting her. They were not married until 1861. Often, tellingly, he makes her his model for the Virgin. Georgie’s decorous, sweet features can, for instance, be identified in the central panel of the Burne-Jones triptych in the chapel at Lady Margaret Hall.,_Countess_of_Carlisle,_London

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Burne-Jones’s The Heart of the Rose functions as the culmination of a journey begun in The Pilgrim at the Gate of Idleness, a culmination that presents the viewer with an ambiguous message about romantic love. The subject matter of the trilogy or triptych comes from the English version of the medieval French allegorical poem, Roman de la Rose in which the Lover quests for the Rose in a supernatural garden. In Burne-Jones’s series, a personified Love escorts the Pilgrim from The Gate of Idleness, through a gray, eerie landscape in Love Leading the Pilgrim, and eventually brings him to his goal in The Heart of the Rose. The use of medieval subject matter and the love-related themes are typical of Burne-Jones’s work. The medieval-esque nature of the painting is heightened by an intense, contrasting color scheme and strong lines that shape the exteriors and interiors of the figures. The entire work bears a marked resemblance to stained glass, a medium in which Burne-Jones worked prolifically.

Thematically, the painting presents the viewer with a complex statement about love. Bill Waters articulately expresses this statement by explaining that, for Burne-Jones, the rose

came to symbolize his experience of love which brought both pleasure and pain — the pleasure in an idealized loved one which simultaneously brought about feelings of despair and ultimate loss…although the Pilgrim is presented directly to the Rose by Love, she still remains unfathomable — a distant and elusive figure, her physical beauty his only reward.

The viewer can see this aspect of unattainability in the posture of the Pilgrim, who stands hunched over and exhausted in front of his desired object, still leaning heavily on Love’s hand. The Rose herself gazes at him sympathetically, almost pityingly, but continues to recline on her throne of flowering bushes, and one of Love’s black wings obscures a small portion of her head. Triumph intertwines with hopelessness.


1. The deep green dress of the Rose causes her body to meld into foliage of her floral throne, making her appear as though she is part of the vegetation herself. Besides the obvious allusions to the woman as an actual rose, are there other reasons why Burne-Jones might have wanted to blend her body into the plants?

2. The painting’s resemblance to stained glass, the depiction of Love as a sort of winged angel, and the fact that the questing figure is a pilgrim all recall religious imagery. However, the theme of the painting is clearly not religious. Does these typically religious images make the painting more or less effective? To a modern viewer? What about a Victorian viewer?

3. Another one of Burne-Jones’s series painted ten years earlier than The Heart of the Rose, Pygmalion, shows a man on a quest for romance on a less literal level. By the end of Pygmalion, however, the lover truly reaches his goal, physically kissing Galatea, and the title of the work is even The Soul Attains. Are these two differing outcomes in the search for love reconcilable within Burne-Jones’s work as a whole?

Stillman was born in Schenectady, New York in 1828. His parents were Seventh Day Baptists, and his early religious training influenced him throughout his life. He was sent to school in New York by his mother, who made great sacrifices so that he might get an education, and he graduated from Union College of Schenectady in 1848. He studied art under Frederic Edwin Church and early in 1850 went to England, where he made the acquaintance of John Ruskin, whose Modern Painters he had devoured; was introduced to Turner, for whose works he had unbounded admiration; and fell so profoundly under the influence of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and John Everett Millais that on his return home in the same year he became known as the “American Pre-Raphaelite.”

In 1852 Lajos Kossuth sent him on a fool’s errand to Hungary to dig up crown jewels, which had been buried secretly during the insurrection of 1848-1849. While he was awaiting a projected rising in Milan, Stillman studied art under Yvon in Paris, and then, as the rising did not take place, he returned to the United States and devoted himself to landscape painting on Upper Saranac Lake in the Adirondacks and in New York City, where he started the Crayon. It numbered Lowell, Aldrich and Charles Eliot Norton among its contributors, and when it failed for want of funds, Stillman removed to Cambridge, Massachusetts.,_London

About Royal Rosamond Press

I am an artist, a writer, and a theologian.
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