The Morning of the Resurrection 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 Morning of the Resurrection, started in 1882 and completed in 1886, is an oil-on-wood painting by Edward Burne-Jones that depicts Mary Magdalen visiting the tomb of the crucified Jesus. Magdalen, astonished to find an empty tomb, encounters a pair of angels and is approached by the resurrected figure of Christ.

Burne-Jones, an important figure in the Pre-Raphaelite movement, was inspired to paint the biblical scene by the death of Laura Littleton and dedicated this artwork to her memory. The painting, measuring 848 mm by 1511 mm, is exhibited at the Tate Britain art museum. Mary Magdalen, shrouded in a robe that covers her body from her neck to her feet, stands between two seated angels that are attired in a similar fashion. A halo of light surrounds the heads of the angels, perched upon a fuchsia sarcophagus from which the lid has been removed, and each holds a hand up to their mouth in a manner which suggests that they are shocked or surprised.

Magdalene, turning her left shoulder to Christ while holding up her right hand, appears to be alarmed by the situation while Jesus possesses a calm and relaxed demeanour. Chapter 20 of the Gospel of John, known as the The Empty Tomb, contains the events that are depicted in this painting. Magdalene, believing that Christ's body had been removed from the tomb, encounters two angels who are seated where the body of Jesus had previously rested and ask her why she is crying. Jesus encounters Magdalene after her interaction with the angels, repeats their question and is mistaken for a gardener by his former pupil. It is only when Christ, not yet ascended to Heaven, speaks Mary's name that she realises who she is talking to.

Burne-Jones, who created other paintings that were inspired by the Resurrection of Jesus, portrays the angels in the painting in a different manner to how they are described in the scriptures. The biblical angels were men, or had assumed male human form, and wore white robes while the English painter depicts his angels as wearing grey robes and having the faces of women. Christ's physical traits are not described in this passage of the scriptures while the artist portrays him with a halo, long hair, beard, blue robe and bare feet.