Maria (née Cassavetti) Zambaco (1843-1914)

Maria Zambaco

Zambaco studied painting with Burne-Jones in the 1860s and 1870s. There is no evidence that she exhibited her paintings, neither is it known whether she sold any works privately, and only one example, a watercolour, A Lady on a Staircase (unknown date), held in a private collection, is extant. However, when she turned to study sculpture under Alphonse Legros in the 1880s, she began to exhibit her sculptural works. From her exhibition history at the Royal Academy, Exposition Universalle and elsewhere it is possible to discern that she produced a modest, but significant, number of art medals, busts (currently untraced) and large scale figurative sculpture (examples of which, L'amour Irresistable (1900) for instance, have appeared at auction in recent years and are held in private collections). However, it is not known whether she sold or, having no need for an income, gifted works privately. The full extent of her oeuvre remains uncertain. It can, however, also be deduced from exhibition records that she worked in a range of sculptural media: her first exhibited work at the RA, shown in 1886, was a terracotta bust of her tutor Legros, while her medals including Marie Stillman, shown in 1887 were bronze, as was a bust with the mythological title Medusa's Horror exhibited the following year, and L'amour Irresistable was produced both in bronze and patinated spelter silver.1 This suggests a depth of engagement with sculptural production and a sophistication in her practice.

It is the case that much more information is often known about Victorian women's lives than their art works, artistic practices, exhibition histories and patronage. Zambaco has been afforded a write up in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography by Charlotte Yeldham and her relationship with Burne-Jones has been repeatedly explored in a plethora of articles. Philip Attwood's article 'Maria Zambaco: Femme Fatale of the Pre-Raphaelites', Apollo, July (1986) London: Comag, 1986 began the work of reconstructing her biography, training and oeuvre. However, Attwood's is the most recent study of Zambaco's art and a more extensive study of her life, artistic studies at home and abroad and production of art works remains to be undertaken. This portal page is currently under development.

University of York staff and students and visitors with institutional access to the Oxford DNB will be able to access the link above.

View the Zambaco section of the Three Graces exhibition

1. Thanks are to Scott Thomas Buckle for pointing me to information regarding recent auctions of Zambaco's work.