The Grail Code 
The Last Sleep of Arthur in Avalon

Edward Burne-Jones’ greatest work, The Last Sleep of Arthur in Avalon, has been bunging around Europe while its home in Puerto Rico is under restoration. This time Europe is showing some appreciation for old Burne-Jones, and it’s about time.

Toward the latter part of the nineteenth century, artists were beginning to rebel against the insignificance of what they had been taught in their academies. The rebellion ultimately led to abstraction, at first partial and then complete.

Artists have always tended to see paintings in terms of carefully balanced compositions of colors; the things represented in the painting can seem almost incidental. That was especially true in some nineteenth-century academic circles, which produced paintings crowded with realistic reproductions of trivial things.

One possible response to the unimportance of the things themselves is simply to get rid of them. If a painting is a carefully balanced composition of colors, then let us have the colors alone, abstracted from any recognizable picture. Perhaps that way we can produce pure art at last.

Another possible response requires more thought and more work. We can make every detail of the painting significant; nothing represented in it will be trivial or irrelevant. This is the answer of Burne-Jones, who created an allegorical world for his figures to live in.

It’s hardly surprising that medieval romances gave Burne-Jones much of his inspiration. He was drawn especially to the romaces of Arthur, with their layers upon layers of allegory. Like Burne-Jones’ paintings, the romances of Walter Map have no irrelevant details, nothing stuck in just for the sake of color.

The Last Sleep of Arthur in Avalon took Burne-Jones seventeen years, and even then he died before he had quite finished it. They say he was so obsessed with the work that he slept in the pose he gave Arthur in the painting. The more he worked on it, the more he wanted to be in Avalon, the Avalon he was painting, to rest like Arthur. He was working on the painting the day before he died. One wonders what he thought of death when he finally got there, and whether it lived up to his expectations.

4 Responses to “The Last Sleep of Arthur in Avalon”

  1. Panni Says:

    Is the significance of the Holy Crown of Hungary - at least apropos of painting The Last Sleep of Arthur in Avalon - mentioned in the book?

    Please send your answer to my mail address, too. Thank you.

  2. Mahalia Says:

    I’m imrpessde! You’ve managed the almost impossible.

  3. Royce Fisch Says:

    Failure does not mean you’re failure it means have not succeeded yet.
    Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.

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(C) 2006 Mike Aquilina and Christopher Bailey