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In 1872 Burne-Jones embarked on a group of drawings illustrating 'The Masque of Cupid', a subject taken from Edmund Spenser's great allegory, 'The Faerie Queene'. The head in this drawing is that of Amorous Desire, who is depicted, as in Spenser's description, blowing gently to awaken the sparks of passion. Over twenty years later, in 1897, Burne-Jones returned to his Spenserian drawings. However, far from stimulating new work on this theme, he then found Spenser's poetry repellent. His wife recalled him saying, 'How good it is when quoted and how weary to plod through'. The drawing was one of the first works by Burne-Jones to enter the Tate Gallery collection, and was given by his son.

September 2004