Danaë and the brazen Tower (1888) by Edward Burne-Jones

Danaë and the brazen Tower by Edward Burne-Jones (English artist, lived 1833–1898) is a painting by one of the last Pre-Raphaelites. Burne-Jones was an artist who brought imaginary, historical and mythological worlds to life via the aesthetic dream-world of late Victorian art.

The version below was exhibited in 1888. Ashmolean Museum. 38 x 19 cm or 15 x 7.5 inches.

In the painting we see Danäe watching the construction of her prison tower with apprehension.

This is a scene from the legend of Acrisius, King of Argos, who was warned by an oracle that he would be slain by the son of his daughter, Danaë. The king’s solution was to build a tower of brass and lock her up in it. That way she surely couldn’t have any children. Problem solved.

Or so he thought. Alas, for the king, Zeus visited the girl in a shower of gold – and the coupling produced a child, Perseus. The king was so alarmed he placed the child in a wooden box and hurled it into the sea. But that didn’t work either, Perseus was rescued and adopted.

Perseus grew to full manhood and became an athlete. Competing in the Games he threw a discus – it hit King Acrisius and the old gentleman died – thus fulfilling the prophecy of the oracle.

The head of Danaë in the final version was modelled by Marie Spartali. Marie Stillman (née Spartali) was a British member of the second generation of Pre-Raphaelites. However, the preliminary drawing below would probably have been made using a professional model.

Preliminary study for Danaë in ‘Danaë and the Brazen Tower’.
Black chalk on very soft paper.
12¼ x 6 in. (31.1 x 15.2 cm.)


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