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Current time:0:00Total duration:4:34

The Pre-Raphaelites and mid-Victorian art

Video transcript

so here we are in the Tate looking at beautiful painting by Edward burne-jones called King cafe Chua and the beggar maid from 1884 it's a really tall painting it's very vertical I was thinking about that just as we were standing here and how unusual that verticality is in our history although there's another painting of similar verticality next to it by burne Jones called the golden stairs so it made me wonder what it was about that kind of verticality that appealed to him the vertical format really allows him to do some interesting things compositionally it allows him to stand the Lance on the right side of the canvas and it allows for this interesting kind of movement I think with our eyes upward you know I sort of stepped into those stairs and then I travel up the length of the male body through his gaze to her and then up again to the figures at the top right who direct your gaze again back down to the beggar maid so the story here is that we have King cafeteria African King who has not been interested in women until he's met this very very beautiful woman who is a beggar and here he is shown seated at her feet he's removed I think significantly removed his crown and is holding it in his hands and his shield and Lance are arrested on that right side and he looks up at her and she looks out at us she doesn't return his gaze it's a wildly interesting subject because it's really about the power of love and the way it trespasses over social structures and you know what would that have meant in the 19th century yeah that's a good question this is very much a kind of ideal romantic image a kind of chivalrous medieval image absolutely seems very chaste and then it's a pretty quiet painting what's making me is the space itself are those stairs I mean those are stairs but what kind of odd stairs lead up to essentially nothing at the top of this there's this enclosed space like stairs that are kind of forma thrown at the top it is it is like a throne or almost like a little altar it made me think that one of the things that appealed to him about the narrowness of the shape of this canvas is the way that he can compress the space and make it not a kind of perspectival space it is a space that makes sense but one that's sort of crowded and cramped and rather mysterious and reminding me a little bit of Northern Renaissance painting interesting in its almost like a little bit of a stage for this enactment and there's so much gold here and it contrasts with her of course her playing this right and her simplicity of what she's wearing and we can see her poverty in very stark contrast to the wealth of the palace where the King lives but what that does is it means that because she has no artifice it's her natural beauty her innate beauty that we look at and that sort of is meaningful to him and I think in that is important sort of moral aspect that notion that one has to look beyond artifice and really recognize true beauty I think is is critical and and it seems to me that would have been important to these artists absolutely I think that idea of recognizing that truth lies beyond the material world with all of its visual appeal right I mean it's sort of a little bit like burne-jones is giving us something that draws our eye almost as much as she does but she wins all that gold is wrought and engraved and you know it's almost like we're being tempted it's like a moral dilemma for the viewer drawing our eye to it you want to get up close to the painting and look at all those details that are in that gold that's glistening but then we have this sort of idea of truth and beauty that are more important than the things that appeal superficially to the eye and so that King it really functions for us as the lead he's taken off his crown he looks past that and sees her and and we are in a sense to do the same and I think that kind of moral aspect to that rings very true as a Victorian painting that little lesson let's hear about what's important