Updated: May 6, 2019
The first painting I fell in love with was 'King Cophetua and the Beggar maid'... I was around six or maybe eight years old, when dad had managed to get a copy of 'World Famous Paintings' by The New Educational Press, printed in 1958. It was second hand and ever so slightly musty, but we loved it and I have it on my desk as I write this. There is a leather bookmark in the page for Turner's 'The Fighting Temeraire', Dad's favourite painting of all time. He was also a great fan of William Blake.
Gosh, this is an emotional one... sitting with dad on the sofa flicking through page by page he read the descriptions to me and as I grew older he would ask me who painted what. Confession time... if I didn't know or wasn't sure, I'd turn my head a little so I could see the page before the description, where the artists name was writ large! I really don't think I was that subtle, but I thought I was getting away with it and he let me.
Why do I love this specific painting?
It evokes memories of one to one time with dad, yes, but also because of the detail which is incredible!
The gilded setting, the ornate tapestries, tell you this man is rich and can have whatever he wants - but all he desires is the beggar maid.
The orange tree and olive branches tell us he is generous and wise. He holds his jewelled crown on his knees as if it means nothing to him.
His armour - Oh, the detail in his armour - the best money can buy but also symbolising strength, physical and mental. This is a man who knows what he wants, has purpose, is a conqueror ...and he sits at the feet of the beggar maid.
His sword, in it's scabbard, rests against his chest, the hilt is not in his hand, he's not ready to fight, but you get the feeling he'd die for her.
His standard, the symbol of his country and his kingdom stands idle before her - she can have it all.
Burne-Jones based this painting on a ballad by Bishop Percy in his 'Reliques of Ancient English Poetry'. An African King, Cophetua - who had never fallen in love before - falls hook, line and sinker for a beggar maid and makes her his queen.
Tennyson wrote his own version of this "The Beggar Maid":
"As shines the moon in clouded skies,
She in her poor attire was seen:
One praised her ancles, one her eyes,
One her dark hair and lovesome mien,
So sweet a face, such angel grace,
In all that land had never been:
Cophetua sware a royal oath:
'This beggar maid shall be my queen!"