The Merciful Knight

Method Photogravure
Artist Frederick Hollyer after Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones
Published c.1900
Dimensions Image 145 x 95 mm, Plate 180 x 120 mm, Sheet 235 x 155 mm
Notes As with many works by the artists associated with Pre-Raphaelitism, a medieval legend acted as the source for Burne-Jones' 'The Merciful Knight'. Here, Burne-Jones looked to the tale of Giovanni Gualberto, an 11th-century Florentine knight, Italian Roman Catholic saint, and the founder of the Vallumbrosan Order. The legend states that, one Good Friday, Gualberto was entering Florence, accompanied by armed followers, when he encountered the man who had killed his brother. Ready to avenge his brother, the man fell to his knees, and pleaded for mercy in the name of Christ. Rather than killing the man, Gualberto forgave him. Later entering a Church to pray, Gualberto witnessed the figure of Christ on a crucifix bowing his head in recognition of Guaulberto's forgiveness and chivalry. The legend was to be retold in Kenelm Digby's 'The Broad-Stone of Honour'. Published in 1822, the book was an attempt to revive chivalry through the exploration of various medieval examples. It was through Digby's publication that Burne-Jones was familiar with the legend of Gualberto.

This print would likely have appeared in a loose sheet folio of the works of the Pre-Raphaelites dating from around 1900.

Although the inspiration for Burne-Jones' 'The Merciful Knight' was the legend of Gualberto, the image is far more intimate and dramatised than the tale. Drawing on the moment that Gualberto receives recognition from the figure of Christ, Burne-Jones here depicts a life-size wooden figure of Christ leaning forward from his crucifix, miraculously embracing a kneeling Guaulberto. Perhaps one of the most vital aspects of Pre-Raphaelite art was the notion of painting from nature. Burne-Jones' 'The Merciful Knight' embodies this principle, with the marigolds in the foreground being painted from the 'town garden' in Russell Square, near Burne-Jones' house that sat opposite the British Museum. 'The Merciful Knight' is said to have been Burne-Jones' own favourite amongst his early works. In Burne-Jones' memorial biography, his wife, Georgiana, spoke of the painting, stating that it appeared 'to sum up and seal the ten years that had passed since Edward first went to Oxford'.

Frederick Hollyer (1837 - 1933) was a mezzotint engraver and famed photographic reproducer of Victorian paintings. Born in London, Frederick was the son of the line engraver Samuel Hollyer. In his junior years he flirted with engraving, and it was in this practise that he received renown for a series of mezzotints he produced after Edwin Landseer. It was his interest, and subsequent pioneering in the field of photography that defined Hollyer's career. He began by making albumen prints from collodion negatives but then was fiercely active in the development of the platinotype. The method of printing, combined with a dry gelatin plate, as opposed to an emulsified version, results in a very high quality matte finish. The prints display a greater tonal subtlety and formal veracity; they are also far more durable. In the 1870's, Hollyer established a business in photographic reproduction based upon this medium and, under the patronage of Frederick Leighton, specialised in the copying of Pre-Raphaelite painting and drawing. These reproductions were used in books and magazines, and thus contributed hugely to the popularity of the movement. A fact that was acknowledged in Hollyer's obituary by The Times when they wrote that he did as much for the Brotherhood with his prints as John Ruskin did with his pen.

Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, 1st Bt (1833-1898) was a painter and designer closely associated with the later phase of the Pre-Raphaelite movement. Burne-Jones met William Morris as an undergraduate of Exeter c
College, Oxford, whilst studying for a degree in theology. The pair went on to work very closely together on numerous decorative arts projects including stained glass windows, tapestries, and illustrations. Originally intending to become a church minister, Burne-Jones never finished his degree, choosing instead to pursue an artistic career under the influence of Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Rossetti heavily inspired his early work, but by the 1860's his idiosyncratic style was beginning to develop. His mature work, however different in total effect, is rich in conscious echoes of Botticelli, Mantegna and other Italian masters of the Quattrocento. Thusly, Burne Jones' later paintings of classical and medieval subjects are some of the most iconic of the Pre-Raphaelite movement. He was at the height of his popularity during the 1880's, though his reputation began to decline with the onset of the Impressionists. He was created a baronet in 1894, when he formally hyphenated his name.

Condition: Some toning and foxing to sheet edges.
Framing mounted
Price £40.00
Stock ID 48370

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