A magnificent series of eight paintings by Birmingham-born Pre-Raphaelite artist Sir Edward Burne-Jones, known as The Perseus Series, is having its first UK showing as a complete set at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery from 3rd March until 4th October 2009, on loan from the Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart, this will be the first time the set has been loaned since they were acquired by the Staatsgalerie in 1971.
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He came to her and kissed her as she sank
Into his arms, and from the horror shrank,
Clinging to him, scarce knowing he was there;
But through the drifting wonder of her hair,
Amidst his pity, he beheld the sea,
And saw a huge wave rising mightily
Above the smaller breakers of the shore,
Which in its green breast for a minute bore
A nameless horror, that it cast aland,
- The Doom of King Acrisius.
The Earthly Paradise by William Morris, 
In Greek mythology, Perseus is the slayer of the Gorgon Medusa and the rescuer of Andromeda from a sea monster. Perseus was the son of Zeus and Danaë, the daughter of Acrisius of Argos. Acrisius cast him into the sea in a chest when just an infant with his mother, after it had been prophesied that he would be killed by his own grandson. The chest washed up on the island of Seriphus, later when Perseus had grown up, Polydectes, The King of the island, tricked him into promising to obtain the head of Medusa, the only mortal among the Gorgons.
Perseus, aided by Hermes and Athena, obtained the help of the sisters of the Gorgons, the Graiae, by seizing the one eye and one tooth that the sisters shared and not returning them until they provided him with winged sandals, giving him the ability to fly, the cap of Hades, giving him invisibility, a curved sword to decapitate Medusa, and a bag in which to conceal the head. Because the gaze of Medusa turned all who looked at her to stone, Perseus guided himself by her reflection in a shield given him by Athena and then he beheaded Medusa as she slept. He returned to Seriphus and rescued his mother by turning Polydectes and his supporters to stone at the sight of Medusa’s head.
A further deed attributed to Perseus was his rescue of the Ethiopian princess Andromeda when he was on his way home with Medusa’s head. Andromeda’s mother, Cassiopeia, had claimed to be more beautiful than the sea nymphs, or Nereids; so Poseidon had punished Ethiopia by flooding it and plaguing it with a sea monster. An oracle informed Andromeda’s father, King Cepheus, that the ills would cease if he exposed Andromeda to the monster, which he did. Perseus, passing by, saw the princess and fell in love with her. He turned the sea monster to stone by showing it Medusa’s head and afterward married Andromeda.
Later Perseus gave the Gorgon’s head to Athena, who placed it on her shield, and gave his other spoils to Hermes. He accompanied his mother back to her native Argos, where he accidentally struck her father dead when throwing the discus, thus fulfilling the prophecy that he would kill his grandfather, Acrisius. He then left Argos and founded Mycenae as his capital, becoming the ancestor of the Perseids, including Heracles.
The main characters in the Perseus legend; Perseus, Cepheus, Cassiopeia, Andromeda, and Cetus, the sea monster, all appear in the night sky as constellations.
The Perseus legend was a favourite subject in painting and sculpture, both ancient and Renaissance. The bronze statue in Florence of Perseus with the Medusa’s head by Benvenuto Cellini is particularly well known. The Pre-Raphaelite painter Edward Burne-Jones produced his famous unfinished Perseus Cycle between 1875-88 and is held between the Southampton and Stuttgart galleries. The Stuttgart works will be on display in Birmingham Museums and Arts Gallery, Britain for a short period while the gallery undergoes works.
The Perseus Cycle
Production Date: 1875-1888
Patron: Arthur Balfour
Date Commissioned: 1875
The Stuttgart collection can be seen at Birmingham Museums and Arts Gallery (BMAG) from March 2009. Only four of the paintings were completed in oil, although full size gouache ("water paint, splash" or bodycolour ) studies were rendered of all the images.
Burne-Jones chose the subject for the series after being inspired by the story of Perseus as told in The Earthly Paradise by his friend, William Morris. The paintings tell the tale of the ancient Greek legend of Perseus, who was ordered by the King of Seriphos to fetch the head of the Gorgon, Medusa, and also of his rescue of the Princess Andromeda who becomes his bride.
Burne-Jones believed that Perseus represented the creative impulse in the fight against evil.
The complete series comprises:
1. The Call of Perseus, full size study in Southampton Art Gallery.
2. Perseus and the Graiae completed work in oil at Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart. Study in private collection, sketches at the Cecil Higgins Gallery and a full size study Southampton Art Gallery.
3. The Arming of Perseus or Perseus and the Nereids (Sea Nymphs), study in Southampton Art Gallery.
4. The Finding of Medusa, full size study in Southampton Art Gallery.
5. The Death of Medusa, full size study in Southampton Art Gallery.
6. The Birth of Pegasus and Chrysaor, full size study in Southampton Art Gallery.
7. The Rock of Doom, completed work in oil at Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart; full size study in Southampton Art Gallery.
8. The Doom Fulfilled, completed work in oil at Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart; full size study in Southampton Art Gallery.
9. The Baleful Head, completed work in oil at Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart; full size study in Southampton Art Gallery.
10. Atlas turned to Stone, full size study in Southampton Art Gallery.
A further painting entitled Peresus and Andromeda (1876) is on display in Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide. It has the same composition as Doom Fulfilled.
Sir Edward Burne-Jones' Perseus cycle depicts the Greek myth of heroic Perseus. In two of the paintings, The Rock of Doom and The Doom Fulfilled, Burne-Jones offers the opportunity to analyze both his paintings and the myth through gender and voyeurism. In The Rock of Doom an armor-clad Perseus approaches a nude Andromeda chained to a phallic rock. He looks at her from the corner of his eye, as if stealing a peek at her. Andromeda, looking rather dejected, half-gazes at her rescuer. In Perseus she has the promise of salvation, yet her body language and facial expression betray no signs of hope or joy in this salvation. The Doom Fulfilled is almost a mirror opposite of The Rock of Doom, as Burne-Jones switches the positions of the figures. Andromeda stands on the left, her sinuous back to the viewer. Yet this time she is the one gazing over her shoulder at Perseus fighting the sea monster. Again, Perseus is fully clad in his armor and Andromeda is completely nude.
Burne-Jones' depiction of Andromeda is a study of beauty in the female form. She stands in contrapposto, with a body less human than purely sculptural. Burne-Jones gives her no purpose in the action, not even terror at her possible fate. He assigns her only a passive role of watching and being watched. And these meaningfully directed gazes between the figures invite the viewer to watch, to become a voyeur in this highly gendered myth of rescue.
Burne-Jones' Andromeda bears a striking resemblance to his depiction of Pygmalion's statue.
With his unfinished series, The Perseus Cycle, Sir Edward Burne-Jones illustrated a classical story as told in William Morris' Earthly Paradise
The Earthly Paradise
Of all the poems of William Morris, the most successful, in terms of popularity, is The Earthly Paradise, published originally in five large volumes.
The Earthly Paradise (March-August) by William Morris
The Beautification of Ugliness in Burne-Jones's Perseus Cycle
Birmingham Museums and Arts Gallery (BMAG) is particularly admired for its remarkable Pre-Raphaelite collection, paintings and drawings – the museum boasts the largest collection in the world.
BM&AG has the largest and most representative collection of works by the major nineteenth-century artist Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898), who was born and grew up in Birmingham. The collection is in every sense an international public resource with over 1200 works, 1138 of which are works on paper and related material.