Sketches for Coronio's Costumes

Edward Burne-Jones
Sketches for Costumes given to Aglaia Coronio by Burne-Jones, individual sketches are undated; album bears an unidentified makers mark dated 18981
Pencil on paper
Various dimensions
Purchased from Christie's 24 Nov 1998, lot. 169 With a contribution from the M.G.C. / V. and A. Purchase Grant Fund administered by the V&A on behalf of the Museums and Galleries Commission
Fitzwilliam Museum Cambridge

The album in which these sketches are contained was purchased by the Fitzwilliam Museum Cambridge principally for the caricatures of William Morris by Burne-Jones that it contains, which were likely gifted to Coronio as a gesture of friendship between her and the two men.2 The majority of Burne-Jones's costumes are less structured than those represented by these sketches, consisting instead of dramatically draped swaths of material. Coronio not only assisted with Burne-Jones's most structured and complexly elaborated costumes, but with his drapery work, which is more often thought to be a product of his imagination.

It is possible that the album in question was made by Coronio herself. When it was auctioned in in 1998 Christie’s identified the album as having a pigskin spine and oak boards that recall deluxe copies of the Kelmscott Chaucer published in 1896 and made by Doves Bindery.3 However, it seems relevant that Morris both taught Coronio to read Chaucer and, around the same time, passed on his bookbinding skills to her.4 The stamp at the base of the leatherwork inside the back cover is difficult to make out, a letter ‘C’ appears to surround another symbol, but it is not currently possible to positively identify the mark due to a lack of an authenticated Coronio binding mark for comparison.

This sketch, inscribed 'Mrs. Coronio. Wait for answer', directly relates to the figures' dresses in Burne-Jones’s painting The Golden Stairs, 1880 (Exhibit 24).

Exhibit 24a
© The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
The Golden Stairs

This sketch resembles the headdresses depicted in The Golden Stairs.

Exhibit 24b
© The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
Detail of headdresses in The Golden Stairs

This sketch for a leatheren breast plate is accompanied by a letter:5

Dear Aglaia,

I have measured Giacinto – here are such measurements as an unskilled tailor can make - I have measured around him - and down him – is it enough? also how kind & helpful you are - & I am ashamed to give you such trouble.

The costume may be that worn by Lord Mayo in Burne-Jones's stained glass window made for St Paul’s, Calcutta Cathedral, 1873-75. Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery hold a cartoon for this design in which Enoch, King David, second from the right wears a breast plate. Burne-Jones's criticism of his own tailoring skills and tone of gratitude suggests how deeply he valued Coronio's involvement with his work. This letter also suggests that she did not carry out the work for economic gain, but out of friendship, as well as artistic interest.

Exhibit 24c
© The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

This sketch shares similarity with Exhibit 24c and is possibly for the same costume or a variation on a Roman-esque military theme. Burne-Jones depicted a male figure wearing a breast plate and pleated skirt in his cartoon for the east chancel window of the church of St Michael and St Mary Magdalene, Easthampstead, Berkshire on the subject of The Last Judgement in 1874 (view cartoon or view window). Burne-Jones's costume design for Aeneas in the illustrations for The Aeneid that William Morris commissioned from him in the same year shows a pleated skirt and considerable flexibility in the breast place, which suggests it is leatheren. Finally, in Burne-Jones's mosaic at St Paul's Within-the-Walls, Napoli Rome, c. 1880s, too, there is a similarly attired elderly, male Christian warrior carrying a spear in the section known as the Defenders of the Faith. These identifications seems to suggest both that Coronio was enlisted to create the most complex of the costumes that Burne-Jones required and depicted, those that could not be improvised from his imagination alone, and that he sometimes made repeated use of her creations in a number of works executed in a range of media. The benefit of Coronio's artistic input might therefore be seen to have been felt not only in Burne-Jones's painting practice, but across his oeuvre.

Exhibit 24d
© The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

This sketch for a costume features a distinctive long wide swath of drapery overlaid with further, oval pieces of material. It is worn over a short smock, wrapped around the left shoulder of the figure and hung loose over their right. The idea, once realised, may well have borne resemblance to the piece of a similar design worn by one of the three kings in The Star of Bethlehem, 1885-90, The Birmingham Museum and Gallery, which is embellished with oval pieces of highly reflective metallic material, becoming a form of body armour. Equally, the sketch may be an early idea for the chivalrous armoured figures seen in Burne-Jones's Briar Rose series (1885-1890), the central sleeping knight in the Briar Wood panel wears a similarly designed piece. In both cases, the costume design has been developed significantly and the aesthetic effect has overtaken the practical purposes of armour.

Exhibit 24e
© The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

The costume in this sketch and the mannerisms of the wearer bears comparison to the right hand, angel figure in Burne-Jones's tapestry, The Attainment - The Vision of the Holy Grail, 1895-96., which was reproduced as a tapestry in 1890-94.

Exhibit 24f
© The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

1. For Fitzwilliam Museum catalogue entries see: http://www.fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk/support/artfund/opac/cataloguedetail.html?&priref=26438&_function_=xslt&_limit_=100&sf_function=print.

2. Victoria & Albert Museum, ‘Fund supports acquisition of caricatures’, V&A Magazine, May-August, 1999, p. 3.

3. Christie’s, British Drawings and Watercolours including the Pleasing Prospect, 24 Nov 1998, lot. 169, pp. 116-119.

4. "Ned [Burne-Jones] says you want to know how to read Chaucer; I will bring a vol: in my pocket, and with your leave will induct you into the mystery", Letter from Morris to Coronio, April 1870, in Henderson, 1950: p.34. Aglaia "is making quite a fine thing of her bookbinding", Letter from Morris to Jane Morris, 3 October 1870, in Henderson, 1950: p.36.

5. For Fitzwilliam Museum catalogue entry see: http://www.fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk/explorer/index.php?qu=coronio&oid=26550.