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.