Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, Bt Sisyphus c.1870

Artwork details

Title
Sisyphus
Date c.1870
Medium Tempera on paper
Dimensions Support: 262 x 258 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition Bequeathed by A.N. MacNicholl 1916
Reference
N03141

Display caption

According to Greek myth, Sisyphus was punished for challenging the gods (hubris). They condemned him to spend eternity rolling a boulder uphill; each time he neared the top it rolled back. The downward sweep of Burne-Jones’s design emphasises the fruitlessness of Sisyphus’s labour.

The roundel was one of eight made to decorate a grand piano for MP William Graham, linked by the story of Orpheus - whose music charmed all who heard it - and his descent into the Underworld in an attempt to rescue Eurydice, his wife. The beauty of Orpheus’s playing caused Sisyphus to pause in his task.

October 2013

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