Delaware's Recent Acquisition

Delaware Museum of Art recently acquired Maria Zambaco's (1843-1914) L'Amour Irresistible from the Maas Gallery.


Maria Zambaco and her cousins Marie Spartali and Aglaia Coronio - daughters of wealthy expatriate Greeks - were nicknamed ‘The Three Graces’ in London, where they were famed for their looks, wealth, independence of mind, and intelligence. Maria, uninhibited and estranged from her husband (a slightly disreputable doctor), was, as Fiona MacCarthy puts it, ‘a striking figure with almost phosphorescent white skin and come-hither glorious red hair’.


She was an aspiring artist, and Burne-Jones gave her lessons in his studio. She sat for him as Cupid in 1866, when her mother commissioned Cupid and Psyche. Modelling to love was a short step, and soon he ‘dispensed with most other models ... in favour of Maria Zambaco’s delicate, distinctly Grecian features, her large expressive eyes, well-sculpted nose and neatly pointed chin’. Burne-Jones cast her in many of his paintings: Pygmalion and the Image (1875-78), as the statue created to be worshipped by the artist; as his enchantress in the The Wine of Circe (1870); his goddess in Venus Concordia and Venus Discordia (1870-73); and his temptress in The Beguiling of Merlin (1872-77), the pursuit of the ancient magician by the sexually predatory Nimuë. Their affair was doomed. Despite Maria’s threats of suicide in 1869, Burne-Jones would not leave his wife for her. There was a public scandal in 1870, when Burne-Jones’s watercolour Phyllis and Demophoön was exhibited at the Old Watercolour Society’s annual exhibition. Both figures, lovers from Ovid’s Heroides, were uncompromisingly naked and the woman’s features were unmistakably Maria’s. After two weeks of complaints, Burne- Jones removed the picture.


Burne-Jones never completely deserted her, perhaps visiting her in Paris and writing to her, and she reportedly rented a studio next to his in the 1880s. Her face continued to haunt his paintings long after their affair had ended. About 1880, Zambaco gave up drawing for sculpture, studying with Alphonse Legros at the Slade and with Rodin in Paris, modelling portrait medallions, including one of her cousin Marie Spartali, and then this figure of irresistible love, referencing perhaps her earlier relationship with Burne-Jones.


She exhibited a cast of it (or a larger version) in Paris under her maiden name of Cassavetti, presumably because Dr Zambaco was also then in Paris. Neither this version nor the larger one appears to have been cast in bronze, but instead in spelter, a cheaper zinc–lead alloy that can be coloured with gold and bronze. If done well it is highly effective.

July 2022
  • Maria Zambaco (1843-1914) L'Amour Irresistable Spelter, patinated bronze & gold

    Maria Zambaco (1843-1914)

    L'Amour Irresistable 

    Spelter, patinated bronze & gold