Saturday 29 November 2008

Lludd’s Dragons


The tale of the dragons of Dinas Emrys actually begins with the tale of Lludd a Llefelys, as one of the plagues affecting the Island of Britain

The Tale of Lludd and Llefelys
The Welsh tale of Lludd and Llefelys is preserved in a collection of stories contained in two manuscripts, the English titles of which are the White Book of Rhydderch (written ca. 1300–25) and the Red Book of Hergest (ca. 1375–1425). The stories are thought to be much older, some dating back at least to the latter part of the eleventh century.

The tale is alluded to in The Lesser Reconciliation of Lludd, from the Book of Taliesin:

Before the reconciliation of Lludd and Llevelys,
The possessor of the fair isle trembled
" [1]

The earliest origins of this story are obscure and there appears to be evidence that The Tale of Lludd and Llefelys is independent of Geoffrey’s influence and based on an earlier tradition that existed before Geoffrey wrote his Historia; although Lludd rebuilding the city of London (Caer Lud) is found in the Historia (possibly based on the same tradition as Henry Huntingon), his brother Llefelys is not found in Geoffrey's work.

The story goes that while Lludd was king of the Island of Britain; it became infected with three supernatural plagues, or oppressions.

The Three Plagues of Lludd’s Reign:

The first was a certain race that came, and was called the Coranians; [2] and so great was their knowledge, that there was no discourse upon the face of the Island, however low it might be spoken, but what, if the wind met it, it was known to them. And through this they could not be injured.

The second plague was a shriek which came on every May-eve, over every hearth in the Island of Britain. And this went through people's hearts, and so seared them, that the men lost their hue and their strength, and the women their children, and the young men and the maidens lost their senses, and all the animals and trees and the earth and the waters, were left barren.

The third plague was, that however much of provisions and food might be prepared in the king's courts, were there even so much as a year's provision of meat and drink, none of it could ever be found, except what was consumed in the first night. And two of these plagues, no one ever knew their cause, therefore was there better hope of being freed from the first than from the second and third. [3]

Lludd called upon his brother Llefelys, who was king of Northern France by marriage, for help in eradicating these three plagues. They met in the middle of the sea and spoke through a horn so as the Coraniaid could not hear them.

The first plague, the Coraniaid was finally eradicated insects bruised in water. Lludd had received the insects from his brother Llefelys in France who had told Lludd to keep some of them to breed with just in case a similar affliction might come to Britain in the future.

Llefelys said the second plague was due to a dragon in Lludd’s kingdom and another dragon of a foreign race is fighting with it. To overcome this plague, Llefelys told Lludd he would need to measure the length and breadth of the Island to find the centre, there dig a pit and place a cauldron filled with the finest mead, covered over by a satin cloth. They would appear as dragons fighting in the air and then tire and fall in the form of pigs into the cauldron, sink in to the mead, drink it and then fall asleep. Lludd would then need to bury them in the strongest part of the island.

When Lludd measured the island, Oxford was found to be the exact centre of the island of Britain. He captured the dragons as Llefelys had said and then wrapped up in the satin covering the cauldron. While they slept took them to the securest place he had which was in Snowdon, at a place then called Dinas Ffaraon, after that the spot was called Dinas Emrys, and from then on the May-eve shriek ceased.

To eradicate the third plague Lludd was only able to stop the recurring theft by confronting the intruder. To avoid falling asleep he kept dipping his head in a vessel of cold water by his side. Upon confronting the magician, a fierce encounter ensued in which Lludd overcame the magician. Thereupon, Lludd granted him mercy and made him his loyal vassal.

The Dragons of Emrys
The tale of the Dragons interned at Dinas Emrys seems to originate from belief in talismanic burial, as seen for example in the story from the Second Branch of the Mabinogi, Branwen Daughter of Llŷr which includes the story of the burial of Bran's head to protect the island. The burial of the two dragons keeps Britain safe from invasion, being one of the Three Fortunate Concealments, until they are unearthed by Vortigern, as one of the Three Unfortuate Disclosures.

The story is alluded to in the Triads:

37 R. Three Fortunate Concealments of the Island of Britain

The Head of Bran the Blessed, son of Llyr, which was concealed in the White Hill in London, with its face towards France. And as long as it was in the position in which it was put there, no Saxon Oppression would ever come to this Island; The second Fortunate Concealment: the Dragons in Dinas Emrys, which Lludd son of Beli concealed; And the third: the Bones of Gwerthefyr the Blessed, in the Chief Ports of this Island. And as long as they remained in that concealment, no Saxon Oppression would ever come to this Island.

And they were the Three Unfortunate Disclosures when these were disclosed And Gwrtheyrn the Thin disclosed the bones of Gwerthefyr the Blessed for the love of a woman: that was Ronnwen the pagan woman; And it was he who disclosed the Dragons; And Arthur disclosed the Head of Bran the Blessed from the White Hill, because it did not seem right to him that this Island should be defended by the strength of anyone, but by his own. [4]

It may allude to an even early mythological element of Britain’s pagan past, as we have seen previously Lludd’s daughter Creiddylad; Gwythyr the son of Greidawl and Gwynn the son of Nudd fight for her every first of May until doomsday. May-eve, Beltane is also probably named after the god Beli, father of Lludd. It is on Beltane that the Milesians came to Ireland, and so it was on Beltane that the Partholonians died.

In addition to Beltane, the Celtic fire festival heralding the onset of summer, May-eve is of course also Walpurgis Night, a traditional pagan festival, on April 30th. Walpurgisnacht is considered the "Enclosure of the Fallen" from Norse tradition and commemorates the time when Odin died. The night is said to be a time when the boundary between this world and the other world can be breached and spirits were said to walk among the living.

Christianised as St. Walpurga's day and set to May 1st, Saint Walpurga herself was a niece of Saint Boniface and, according to legend, a daughter of the Saxon prince St. Richard. It would seem that May-eve is traditionally a day when rulership is challenged and plagues appear.

Although Geoffrey of Monouth and the tale of Lludd and Llefelys, disagree on the fourth brother Llefelys, they concur in naming a third brother Nynyaw in Welsh (= Nennius in Latin), who plays no further part in the story.

The tale of the dragons concealed at Dinas Emrys is very significant in the early mythology of Britain. These are, no doubt, the same dragons which appear in 9th Century story of Ambrosius and Vortigern, attributed to a cleric named Nennius, c.800 CE, in the Historia Brittonum, from the Harlian 3859 manuscript.

The Tale of Lludd and Llefelys, albeit it in a bridged form, was included in later Welsh redactions of Geoffrey’s Historia, probably to account for how the dragons became buried in Dinas Emrys. Geoffrey names the boy Emrys as Merlin and hence the confusion of the two Merlins commences – but that’s another story!

Ambrosius becomes Emrys in Welsh, Dinas Emrys near Beddgelert in Snowdonia traditionally being his stronghold; he was referred to by Gildas as the Last of the Romans; Nennius hints to the possibility of civil war when he alludes to the Battle of Wallop between Ambrosius and Vortigern. From Nennius the concept of the red dragon as representing the Britons (this still represented on the flag of Wales today) in their struggle against the Anglo-Saxons is generally accepted. However, the white dragon may not be referring to Germanic invaders at all but the dragons could be representations of the two factions of Ambrosius and Vortigern.

According to the story Vortigern was advised by his wise men to retire to the remote boundaries of his kingdom and build a citadel, but three times the building collapsed, he was advised to: “find a child born without a father, put him to death, and sprinkle with his blood the ground on which the citadel is to be build,”

Hence, they found the boy Emrys who was not born of a mortal father and he was brought before Vortigern:

"there is," said he, "a pool;" they examined, and found it so: continuing his questions, "What is in the vases?" they were silent: "there is a tent in them," said the boy; "separate them, and you shall find it so;" this being done by the king's command, there was found in them a folded tent. The boy, going on with his questions, asked the wise men what was in it? But they not knowing what to reply, "There are," said he, "two serpents, one white and the other red; unfold the tent;" they obeyed, and two sleeping serpents were discovered; "consider attentively," said the boy, "what they are doing." The serpents began to struggle with each other; and the white one, raising himself up, threw down the other into the middle of the tent, and sometimes drove him to the edge of it; and this was repeated thrice. At length the red one, apparently the weaker of the two, recovering his strength, expelled the white one from the tent; and the latter being pursued through the pool by the red one, disappeared. Then the boy, asking the wise men what was signified by third wonderful omen, and they expressing their ignorance, he said to the king, "I will now unfold to you the meaning of this mystery. The pool is the emblem of this world, and the tent that of your kingdom: the two serpents are two dragons; the red serpent is your dragon, but the white serpent is the dragon of the people who occupy several provinces and districts of Britain, even almost from sea to sea: at length, however, our people shall rise and drive away the Saxon race from beyond the sea, whence they originally came; but do you depart from this place, where you are not permitted to erect a citadel” [5]

The Ancient Tripartite
French scholar George Dumezil theorises that the meaning of the story is based on a tripartite ideology from Indo-European society; sovereignty, force and fruitfulness. [6]
The three elements of the Welsh story Lludd & Lleuelys echo the features of the story of Naudu and Lug, the primary source being The Second Battle of Mag Tuired:

Nuada, The King of the Tuatha De Danann has lost his arm in battle against the champion of the Fir Bolg. He is given a prosthetic silver arm and is from then on known as Nuada Airgetlam (silver hand-arm). The new King of the Tuatha De Danann, Bres, is part Formonian and tyrannises his people, their leading warriors are reduced to demeaning chores and the poets are not wanted at the King’s court. The reign of Bres is characterised by the three functions; the sovereign has become a tyrant, the leading warriors have lost their might, and fertility is contravened by yielding crops as tribute. Enter Lugh who leads the Tuatha De Danann to victory against the Formonians.

In Lludd and Lleuelys the realm of the King has been weakened in each of the three elements:

The Coraniaid have effectively tyrannised the people with their magical powers of hearing, The May eve scream has reduced the strength of the warriors, The food not eaten on the first night of the feast in the king’s court, a year’s provision, disappears.

As we have seen Lludd appears to be synonymous with Lludd Lawereint, who is synonymous with Nuada Airgetlam, therefore both versions of the tale, Welsh Lludd and Lleuelys and the Irish Second Battle of Mag Tuired relate to a Celtic myth in which the god Nodons has lost his arm in battle and is besieged by three plagues. The three elements and consequently the kingdom are restored by the god Lugus (Irish = Lug, Welsh =Lleu). [7]


1 Skene in his Notes to the Four Ancient Books of Wales states that this is a curious poem giving an account of an early colonisation of Britain and suggests that this poem refers not to the Coraniaid of Cryfranc of Lludd and Llefelys, but the Romans. However, the word for Romans would be Caesarians, which is quite different and they are not listed in Triad 36 Three Oppressions that came to this island.
2 Coraniaid, variously spelt, probably related to the Welsh word corach translated as ‘dwarf’ and it is generally accepted that they are fairy people, the Tylwyth Teg, invading the island, as do the fairy races of Ireland, although the Triad says they came from Arabia
3 Cyfranc Lludd a Llefelys, Translated by Lady Charlotte Guest
4 Rachel Bromwich, (2006). Trioedd Ynys Prydein: The Triads of the Island of Britain.
5 Historia Brittonum, Attributed to Nennius, ca. 800 CE, Harlian 3859, Translation from Six Old English Chronicles by: J.A. Giles.
6 George Dumezil discusses the tale and shows that the three plagues that menace human society are an archaic formulation in Mythe et Epopee I, 1968, pp.613-623, - referred to in The Mabinogi and Other Medieval Welsh Tales by Patrick K Ford, pp. 111-112.
7 Celtic Culture, A Historical Encyclopedia By John T. Koch, 2006, pp 1164 – 1166.
Koch states that the name Llefelys appears to be a compound, the first element is the same as seen in the simplex name of the important pan-Celtic supernatural figure, Welsh Lleu, Old Irish Lugh, Celtiberian and Gaulish Lugus. Lleuelis the usual spelling in White Book and Red Book texts of the Cyfranc modernised as Llefelys. Patrick Ford writes this as modern Welsh Lleuelys, emphasing the connection with Lleu the central figure of the Math mab Mathonwy and counterpart of Lug.

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Sunday 23 November 2008

Lludd's City


Legend has it that there was once a temple to Lludd at the site of St Paul's Cathedral, London, near Ludgate, one of the City's seven ancient gates.
Lludd Llaw Eraint
"Lludd of the Silver Hand", son of Beli Mawr, is a legendary hero from Welsh mythology. As Nudd Llaw Eraint (the earlier form of his name, cognate of the Irish Nuada Airgetlám, derived from the pre-Roman British god Nodens) he is the father of Gwynn ap Nudd, lord of the Otherworld and leader of the Wild Hunt.

In the early Welsh Genealogies most early British Kings claim descent from Beli Mawr (the Great). Beli was said to be have been the husband of Anna (Anu), which Christianised legend equates with the daughter of St. Joseph of Arimathea.

Beli Mawr has been identified with the Celtic God, Belinos, his name means 'shining' or 'bright’, who has more surviving inscriptions than any other Celtic God, across northern Italy and southern Gaul and traces of a cult in Britain; the Celtic festival Beltane may be named after him. Belinos has been equated with Apollo. Beli, in addition to being father to Lludd, was also father of Avallach, whose abode was the otherworldly island which was the precursor of Avalon. He is therefore King of the Otherworld although in some later literature, he is replaced by his nephew Gwyn ap Nudd as King of Avalon.

In the Triads of Britain, Afallach was also the father to nine maidens, goddesses who tended the cauldron, the chief treasure of Annwfn. The early Arthurian poem, the Spoils of Annwfn (Preiddeu Annwfn) portrays a raid on the otherworld by Arthur and his companions for the sacred cauldron of the chief of Annwfn. This is similar to one of the tasks set in Culwch and Olwen in which Arthur must attain the cauldron of the giant Diwrnach on a raid to an otherworld island.

The Book of Taliesin poem The Lesser Prophesy of Britain, has the same first four lines as The Great Prophesy of Britain (Armes Prydein Vawr ) also found in the Book of Taliesin, depicts the Britons repelling the Saxon attacks. Here, they are led by the seven sons of Beli, who is seen as a historical king:

The seven sons of Beli arose. Caswallawn, and Lludd, and Cestuddyn, Diwed, Plo, Coil, Iago from the land of Prydyn.

Skene in The Four Ancient Books of Wales notes that these do not all appear to be sons of the same Beli. In Welsh tradition from the Children of Don, Beli Mawr, consort of Don, have seven sons who are all euhemerised gods:

Gwydion, Afallach, Caswallawn, Llefelys, Nudd/Lludd, Amaethon, and Gofannon and two daughters Penarddun, Arianrhod.
(Nynniaw appears to be a later addition in the Tale of Lludd and Llefelys)

(click for larger view)

The Lesser Prophesy of Britain continues,

In the alliance of the sovereign’s servants, Llyminawg will appear Who will be an ambitious man, To subdue Mona, And to ruin Gwynedd, From its extremity to its centre.

Lleminawg is a character who also appears in another poem from the Book of Taliesin "The Spoils of Annwn," where he has a flaming sword, plunged into the cauldron of Annwfn. He also accompanies Arthur in "Culhwch and Olwen" portraying further similarities between the two works as noted above. [1]

Is it not the cauldron of the Chief of Annwn which is social? With a ridge round its edge of pearls, It will not boil the food of a coward nor of one excommunicated. A sword bright flashing to him will be brought, And left in the hand of Llyminawg.
– [The Spoils of Annwn]

Lludd Llaw Eraint appears only in Culwch and Olwen, therefore his absence from Welsh literature indicates he is probably not the sole source of Geoffrey of Monmouth's King Lud from his History of the Kings of Britain. Geoffrey using his name to incorrectly explain the naming of London, as he did with Brutus and the naming of Britain. The tale of Lud rebuilding London and being named after him as Caerlud appears only in Geoffrey’s work and subsequently the Bruts that followed it.
Geoffrey, however, my have been following an oral tradition as Henry of Huntingdon, writing prior to Geoffrey’s History of the Kings of Britain, tells us in his Historia Anglorum that the leader of the British army against the Romans was 'Belinus, the brother of King Cassibelaun, and the son of Lud, a very brave king who had gained possession of many islands of the sea by the success of his arms'. [2]
Geoffrey had already used Belinus and Brennius as brothers fighting a Roman campaign in the 4th century BC, so he used the name Heli as the king who ruled Britain and had three sons, Lludd, Caswallawn and Nyniaw. When Heli died Lludd ruled prosperously, re-building London and calling it Caer Lludd. Lud no doubt was a humanised deity, ultimately derived from Nodens; According to legend, there was once a temple to Lludd at the site of St Paul's Cathedral, London, near Ludgate, one of London's seven ancient gates, which is allegedly named after him but the derivation of the name is uncertain. Upon the death of Lud, the younger brother Caswallawn (Cassibellaunus) becomes king. Lud’s sons Androgeus and Tenvantius are not yet of age so are made Duke of Trinovantum (London), and Duke of Cornwall respectively.

Tenvantius is known historically as Tasciovanus and reigned for the last two decades BC over the Catuvellauni, North of the Thames. Tasciovanus is known to us only from his coins from that period not from literature, and yet his name turns up in a corrupted from centuries later. [3] This has led some to argue as evidence of a lost source for Geoffrey of Monmouth’s work but more likely confirms an oral tradition which became confused through the course of time.
However, Caswallawn we know as an historical character that did actually fight against the Romans. Cassivellaunus was a historical British chieftain who led the defence against Julius Caesar's second expedition to Britain in 54 BC. He appears in Julius Caesar's Commentaries on the Gallic War, although he does not name the tribe, he states that Cassivellaunus’ territory is north of the River Thames, which correlates with the area later inhabited by the Catuvellauni.

Cassivellaunus must have been a powerful ruler in his time, according to Caesar he had been at constant war with other British tribes, overthrowing the king of the most powerful tribe in Britain at the time; the Trinovantes. Despite Cassivellaunus's guerrilla tactics, relying on knowledge of the local terrain within his territory and the speed of his chariots, Caesar still managed to advance to the Thames. The only fordable point was defended and fortified with sharp stakes, but the Romans managed to cross. Bede, The Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation, c.731 mentions the spikes in the Thames; apparently they were still visible in his time, and were encased in lead.

Cassivellaunus appears as Caswallawn son of Beli Mawr, in later Welsh literature; the Triads of Britain, he appears in the second and third Branches of the Mabinogi, and Welsh versions of Geoffrey's Historia (Bruts). He is referenced frequently in the Triads; usually referring to a tradition about Caswallawn not drawn from either Roman nor existing medieval sources. His horse, Meinlas (Slender Gray) is mentioned in the Triads as one of the Three Bestowed Horses of the Island of Britain. The Triads call the decision to allow the Romans to land in Britain in exchange for Meinlas one of the Three Unfortunate Counsels of the Island of Britain. The Triads also state that Caswallawn left Britain with 21,000 men in pursuit of Caesar and never returned. [4]

There is even less of Lud in Welsh Literature, but like Caswallawn his tales do appear in the Mabinogion and the Triads of the Island of Britain. In Triad 36, Lud and Caswallawn seem to become confused:

36. Three Oppressions that came to this island and not one of them went back [5]

One of them was the people of the Cor(y)aniaid who came here in the in the time of Caswallawn, (=Lludd?) son of Beli: and not one of them went back. And they came from Arabia. The second oppression: The Gwyddyl Ffichti. And not one of them went back. The third oppression: The Saxons, with Horsa and Hengist as their leaders.

It is the general consensus that Lludd should replace his brother Caswallawn in this Triad, all other manuscripts concur in line with the independent Welsh tale Lludd a Llefelys. However, this possibility cannot be ruled out, Caswallawn appears in the previous Triad 35. [6] He also appears in other Triads with a character called Lleu in one Triad as one of the Three Golden Shoemakers of the Island of Britain.

The Mabinogion anthology compiled by Lady Charlotte Gueste in the 19th century includes the independent Welsh tale of Lludd and Llefelys which does not appear in Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia but is subsequently inserted in the thirteenth century Welsh version, Brut y Brenhinedd.


1 R. S. Loomis theorized that he is a form of Lugh Lamhfada, and influenced the figure of Lancelot.
2 Rachel Bromwich, (2006). Trioedd Ynys Prydein: The Triads of the Island of Britain.
3 Geoffrey Ashe, Mythology of the British Isles, p 133.
4 In The Triads of the Island of Britain (2006) Rachel Bromwich suggests the fragmentary allusions to Caswallawn in the Triads may relate to a lost narrative, this may have been a Welsh romance similar to the independent tales included in the Mabinogion, detailing the king's adventures, which would have been largely free of influence by the classical accounts.
5 "Oppression" is translated from the word “gormes”, which may be "oppression" but implies invasion/conquering by an alien race.
6 Rachel Bromwich, ibid. In the notes to Triad 36, Rachel Bromwich expresses caution in following all other manuscripts that agree in restoring Lludd mab Beli, in place of Caswallawn, to conform with the tale of Lludd a Llefelys, as she states we have no assurance that that an earlier version of the story of the coming of this gormes (alien race) was not associated with Caswallawn rather than his brother. It may be significant that Caswallawn also appears in the preceding Triad 35. As Cassivellaunus of history he is also mentioned in Julius Caesar's De Bello Gallico v.11, where he is said to be the commander of the British resistance against the invading Romans.
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Saturday 22 November 2008

The Grail Tapestries

The Quest for the Holy Grail

In the early 1890’s Sir Edward Burn-Jones designed a series of tapestries illustrating the Quest for the Holy Grail. These were produced in collaboration with William Morris and some of them are now in he care of Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.

For conservation reasons the tapestries are only exhibited occasionally but are on show as from today, 22nd November 2008, until February 2009.

This sequence of tapestries was originally designed for William Knox D'Arcy, for the dining room of his house, Stanmore Hall, Middlesex. It was the most extensive decoration scheme that the firm of Morris & Co completed. A set of ten were designed by Edward Burne-Jones, who produced the figurative designs and based the costumes loosely on those of the twelfth century, John Henry Dearle, who designed decorative detail, and William Morris, who designed the heraldry. Several further versions were woven later, although the entire series was only repeated once, for D'Arcy's business partner, George McCulloch, in 1898-99. Birmingham's version of 'The Summons' is from the series produced for George McCulloch.

The subject matter is based on the 15th century Thomas Malory’s Le Morte D'Arthur. It tells the story of the spiritual quest by King Arthur's knights of the round table for the Holy Grail, the vessel from which Jesus and the disciples drank at the Last Supper.

Panel 1 - Knights of the Round Table
Summoned to the Quest by the Strange Damsel

Here the first scene of the story shows the damsel arriving at court and summoning the knights to the quest. King Arthur holds a gold staff and wears a crown. Sir Lancelot, also wearing a crown, is seated on the left. The other knights are Sir Bors, Sir Kay, Sir Lamorah, Sir Gawaine, Sir Palomedes, Sir Perceval, and Sir Hector de Marys. Sir Galahad, who is Sir Lancelot’s son, and the only knight worthy of attaining the Holy Grail, is yet to arrive. He is represented by the empty chair, draped with a cloth bearing a Latin inscription and known as the ‘Siege Perilous’.

Panel 2 - The Arming and Departure of the Knights
The second scene depicts the virgin ladies of King Arthur's Court assisting the knights in preparation for their quest. On the far left, Queen Guinevere hands Sir Lancelot his shield, in an allusion to their adulterous relationship, the cause of Sir Lancelot's impending failure. Sir Gawaine, who will also fail in the quest, appears mounted on the right of the picture, identified by his shield, which bears a double-headed eagle.

Panel 3 - The Failure of Sir Gawaine;
Sir Gawaine and Sir Uwaine at the Ruined Chapel

Here the third scene depicts two knights who failed in their quest because they had previously led sinful lives. The story told how after many days of riding they stopped to rest and pray at a deserted chapel, but were told that they could not enter. Sir Uwaine is shown on the left, and Sir Gawaine is nearest the angel, who is barring the entrance to the chapel. A brilliant light shines from within, suggesting the presence of the Holy Grail.

Panel 4 - The Failure of Sir Lancelot
to Enter the Chapel of the Holy Grail

The fourth scene depicts Lancelot's failure to attain the Holy Grail. In Le Morte d'Arthur, Lancelot is unworthy of the Holy Grail, for according to Christain tradition he has allowed human perfection in the form of Guenevere to supplant the image of God. Burne-Jones departs from Malory's text and Lancelot is shown sleeping outside a chapel wherein the presence of the Grail is again suggested by the emission of the brilliant light through the door to which entry is forbidden by the presence of an angelic figure. This tapestry is not in Birmingham's collection.

Panel 5 - The Ship
This design links the figurative scenes together. The story tells how the knights travelled by ship for part of their journey to Sarras, where the Holy Grail was to be discovered.
Ships were often used in medieval stories as important narrative devices, to transport characters from one scene or world to another. Burne-Jones drew studies for this design using scale models.

Panel 6 - The Attainment; The Vision of the Holy Grail
to Sir Galahad, Sir Bors and Sir Percival

The final scene shows the three successful knights. The relative purity of each knight's life is represented by their distance from the Holy Grail, which sits on the altar inside the chapel. Sir Galahad kneels in the doorway surrounded by white lilies, symbolising his purity. On the left are Sir Bors and Sir Perceval.
Three standing angels hold symbols of Christ's passion, including the bleeding lance of Longinus, the Roman soldier who pierced his side on the cross. Above the Holy Grail is a Pentecostal wind, symbolising the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Verdure with Deer and Shields
A verdure is a type of tapestry that represents plants or wooded landscapes, sometimes with birds or animals. They were produced in Northern Europe from the Middle Ages to the 18th century. Verdure tapestries were originally designed to hang beneath each of the first four narrative scenes in the dining room at Stanmore Hall. Each had an inscription, which described the subject above it. The design for this Verdure was adapted by J H Dearle in 1900, from Burne-Jones's design for the original one which hung below The Summons.

Chamberlain Square
B3 3DH

Return of the King

The Sleep of Arthur in Avalon – Edward Burne-Jones

“Some men yet say that King Arthur is not dead,
......and men say that he will come again”

Edward Burne-Jones last and greatest work The Sleep of Arthur in Avalon has come home and returns to Britain for exhibition at the Tate Britain, London for a limited period only, from April 2008 to February 2009. Burne-Jones spent 17 years on the canvas and he was still painting it on the day before his death in June 1898.

Following the artist's death the painting with its magnificent frame with Latin inscription passed to a neighbour of Burne-Jones's whose descendents, John and Penryn Monck, sold the work at Christie's on 26 April 1963. Even at a time when Victorian art was unfashionable, the sale was considered a significant loss to Britain.

Tragically, Burne-Jones last work was allowed to leave Britain in 1963 after being sold at auction when the Tate had the opportunity to buy it for £1,000. It was purchased for the Museo de Arte de Ponce in Puerto Rico by the island's governor and founder of the museum, Don Luis Ferré, in 1963.

This enormous painting, measuring 21ft by 10ft, is being loaned to Tate Britain with Frederic Leighton's masterpiece Flaming June (1895) from the Museo de Arte de Ponce, Puerto Rico, while its galleries undergo a major renovation and expansion programme during 2008.

The subject of the painting is taken from the fifteenth century work Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, Book 21, Chapters 5 and 6. Mortally wounded in the Battle of Camlann, Arthur is taken way to the isle of Avalon and tended by Morgan and her sisters, where he would enter a dream like sleep until summoned again.

Burne-Jones painting shows the King laid out in a cloister, capped by a canopy embossed with panels showing the story of the Holy Grail, three queens keeping vigil; Morgan le Fay in white; the queens of Northgallis and the Wastelands by his feet. In the foreground, playing instruments, are Nimue (The Lady of the Lake), the queens of Sothian Orkney, Eastland and the Outer Isles. Amazons hold the kings’ armour, while Watchers look out into the distance ready to raise the alarm should the King awake.

If you appreciate fine Arthurian art see it now while you can - it returns for a limited period only, you will not be disappointed.

Flaming June

Also on loan from the Museo de Arte de Ponce, Puerto Rico, Flaming June, was last shown in the UK in 1996 and has become an iconic work in Puerto Rico. The picture was one of the artist's final works and shows a woman in a state of total relaxation, with brilliant orange drapery stretched across her body, as she sleeps in the heat of the Mediterranean sun.

The theme of sleep and its associations with death and unconsciousness was important to both Leighton and Burne-Jones, and has additional resonance in these two works that were painted towards the end of the artists' lives.

Tate Britain

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