I mean by a picture a beautiful romantic dream of something that never was, never will be -- in a light better than ever shone... ~Edward Burne-Jones
Burne-Jones painted Astrologia in watercolor with a heavy hand. It was completed in 1863, three years after his best friend William Morris had completed Red House, designed by Morris and architect Philip Webb in a medieval style. Burne-Jones, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Philip Webb and many other second-wave Pre-Raphaelites were particularly interested in medieval arts and literature, and contributed to the home's medieval-style decorations. Also, Burne-Jones had recently spent some time in Italy copying older works at the invitation of John Ruskin. The crystal gazer's dress is reminiscent of medieval Italian dress.
In Astrologia, the woman's youth, the open book with its esoteric symbols, and the crystal ball itself suggest first steps in the craft. Astrologia is an early Burne-Jone works to include a crystal sphere but easily a dozen works follow where a sphere or reflection has a central focus. Georgiana Burne-Jones mentions in one of her letters the crystal ball being always present in her husband's studio.
The Athenaeum for January 14, 1893 reviewed it this way:
Astrologia(20), 1965, the public has not, we think seen before. It belongs to that peculiar sort of allegory in which the best of the Venetians took delight, and has also some traits of Florentine seriousness. . . . its style is larger, its inspiration more sober, but not less profound, its treatment is simpler, and its design more majestic. Astrologia is represented by a beautiful wman, dressed in a robe of deep rose-crimson. Her rich brown hair rests in large masses upon her shoulders. With both hands she holds up one of the huge crystal balls which in the mystical art of the Remaissance are held to represent the universe, and her eyes are searching its depths, crowded with reflections of men and things. This is a piece of art of rare kind. The background, a space of sober blue as obscure and yet as transparent as the firmament it stands for, serves to set off the figure and the branches of dark-grey bay that are touched with lights of gold...
Burne-Jones uses spheres as the home of unrealized worlds and possibilities. The spheres really come into their own later in the Days of Creation.
From left: Astrologia globe (1863); Days of Creation detail: Third Day, Fifth Day, Sixth Day (1876)
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Here is the artist study for Astrologia, done in pastels.
Astrologia was presented as a gift to Burne-Jones's housekeeper, Frances Blanche.
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