Princess Sabra (1865)

Burne-Jones, Edward (1833-1898)

Princess Sabra
Oil on canvas, 107.2 x 61.5 cm
Musée d’OrsayParis

Inscription: S. initials D.b.g.: E.B.J. 1865-6

This work is part of a decorative set commissioned from Burne-Jones by the watercolourist Miles Birket Foster (1825-1899) and devoted to the legend of Saint George and the dragon. The story of Saint George has been very widespread since the Middle Ages: a Christian noble, an officer in the Roman army, George of Lydda saves Princess Sabra from the clutches of the dragon, condemned to be the next victim offered as a sacrifice to the monster. The king, father of the rescued princess, and his vassals then converted to Christianity. Steeped in chivalrous ideals, this legend depicting the man who would become the patron saint of England was a favorite subject of the English Pre-Raphaelites. Like many 19th century artists, they were fascinated by the Middle Ages, which they interpreted as a time of high spirituality. Perhaps we should see in this work an apology for faith and ideal values as ramparts against modern and industrial civilization, against the threats posed by the machine and mercantilism. The painter focuses here only on the figure of Princess Sabra. The long androgynous young woman is represented in front of a background of flowers and trees reminiscent of a tapestry, thus giving the work a decorative character. (Orsay)