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The African king Cophetua sits at the feet of a beggar woman. He had disdained women until he met her and fell in love at first sight, vowing to make her his queen. This is the moment when love transcends class and reason. Edward Burne Jones was partly inspired by Alfred Tennyson’s poem The Beggar Maid. He also believed in the transforming power of the act of looking and thought of the eyes as windows of the soul. The picture’s egalitarian story has also been connected with the socialism of Burne-Jones’s close friend William Morris.

July 2007