Study of Mary Cassavetti (Mrs Maria Zambaco)
Pencil; initialled and dated MDCCCLXXI 
12.75 x 14.5 inches
The New Gallery, 'Exhibition of the Works of Sir Edward Burne-Jones', 1898-99, no. 198 (Study of a Head, Lent by S A Mavrojani, Esq)
The Maas Gallery, 'Victorian Paintings, Drawings and Watercolours', 8-26 November 1971, no. 52
'The Artist's Model: from Etty to Spencer', no. 68: York City Art Gallery, 29 May - 11 July 1999; Kenwood, London, 23 July - 26 September 1999; Djanogly Art Gallery, University of Nottingham, 16 October - 12 December 1999
Collection of Captain SA Mavrojani;
Bequeathed to his daughter Evelyn, and her husband William Leslie Bundey;
Sotheby's London, 24 June 1971; Bt Maas Gallery (7973);
Sold Nicolas Barker, 17 December 1971
Postle, M.M., and Vaughan, W., The Artist's Model: from Etty to Spencer, Merrell Holberton Publishers Ltd., London, 1999, p. 91, cat no. 68
This drawing, described by Professor Martin Postle as ‘among the finest of Mary Zambaco’, is a smouldering psycho-sexual image of the Greek beauty who became Burne-Jones’s lover. The febrile drawing of her filigree hair, the delicate shading of her skin, her languid and deliberately awkward posture and the compressed format are powerfully expressive of his obsession with her. A deliberate imbalance provokes an urge to turn it through 90 degrees to stop her falling out of the picture, unsettling the viewer, just as the artist was unsettled by Maria.
Maria Zambaco and her cousins Marie Spartali and Aglaia Coronio - all daughters of wealthy ex- patriate Greeks - were nicknamed ‘The Three Graces’ in London, where they were famed for their looks, wealth, independence of mind and intelligence. Maria, uninhibited and estranged from her husband (a slightly disreputable doctor) was, as Fiona MacCarthy puts it, ‘a striking figure with “almost phosphorescent” white skin and come- hither glorious red hair’. She was an aspiring artist, trained at the Slade - Burne-Jones gave her lessons in his studio and she sat to him for Cupid in 1866, when her mother commissioned Cupid and Psyche. He had ‘dispensed with most other models now, in favour of Maria Zambaco’s delicate, distinctly Grecian features, her large expressive eyes, well- sculpted nose and neatly pointed chin’. Burne-Jones cast her in many of his paintings: Pygmalion and the Image (1875-8), as the statue created to be worshipped by the artist; as his enchantress in the The Wine of Circe (1870); his goddess in Venus Concordia and Venus Discordia (1870-3); and his temptress in The Beguiling of Merlin (1872-7), the pursuit of the ancient magician by the sexually predatory Nimuë. Their tumultuous affair was doomed, for, despite Maria’s threats of suicide in 1869, Burne-Jones would not leave his wife for her.
There was a public scandal in 1870, when Burne- Jones’s watercolour Phyllis and Demophoon was exhibited at the Old Watercolour Society’s annual exhibition. Both figures, lovers from Ovid’s Heroides, were uncompromisingly naked and the woman’s features were unmistakably Maria’s. After two weeks of complaints, Burne-Jones removed the picture. Burne-Jones never completely deserted her, perhaps visiting her in Paris and writing to her, and she reportedly rented a studio next to his in the 1880s. Her face continued to haunt his paintings long after their affair had ended.