The Baleful Head Edward Burne-Jones Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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The Baleful Head (1886 – 1887) is part of The Perseus Cycle done by Sir Edward Burne-Jones which included: The Call of Perseus, Perseus and the Graiae, Perseus and the Sea Nymphs, The Finding of Medusa, The Death of Medusa I, The Death of Medusa II, Atlas Turned to Stone, The Rock of Doom and The Doom Fulfilled.

The last painting in this series is the baleful head which shows Perseus and Andromeda clenching into each other's right hand at the wrist on an octagon-shaped well. In this piece of art, Perseus shows Andromeda Medusa's head which according to ancient mythology, it could not be gazed directly in its face because one would turn into stone. For this reason, Perseus, who is in a bid to persuade Andromeda that he is the son of Zeus and claim her hand in marriage, carefully ensuring that she is looking at the reflection of medusa’s head in the water.

From the painting, this is quite visible as Perseus is not looking at the reflection but staring at Andromeda portraying his love for her. This is one of the most outstanding paintings in The Perseus Cycle with a relatively serene background with an apple-filled tree displaying a natural environment, a perfect setting for a mythical-illustration. Arguably one of the most gruesome monsters of ancient mythology, Edward Burne-Jones portrays Medusa's head peacefully and harmlessly in an unexpectedly far more attractive way. Additionally, Perseus armour is depicted in somewhat soft style while Andromeda’s robe expertly drapes from her left arm.

Sir Edward Burne-Jones love for classical and mythical painting is evidently portrayed in the Perseus cycle paintings and particularly the baleful head. It is quite remarkable and ingenious how Burne-Jones brings out a wordless conversation between the three figures in the painting: Perseus, Andromeda and Medusa's head. Sir Edward Burne-Jones who initially studied theology, went on to become a painter after meeting William Morris after meeting in Exeter college, oxford. His early work was greatly influenced by Dante Gabriel Rossetti while his mature work echoes some of the Italian greats such as Botticelli and Mantegna. The baleful head which used the oil and canvas media can now be found in Staatsgalerie Stuttgart collection, Stuttgart, Germany.