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This painting is an example of Edward Burne-Jones’s interest in investigating a mood rather than telling a story. He deliberately made his pictures enigmatic and the meaning of this painting has provoked much debate. One view is that the eighteen women are spirits in an enchanted dream. The painting might also be purely decorative. The underlying idea, popularised in the 1870s by the critic Walter Pater, is that ‘all the arts aspire to the condition of music’. Paintings like this can be as much about design as meaning.

July 2007