Saints Dorothea and Theophilus Window Character Biographies


Maria Zambaco 1843-1914Dorothea

Maria Zambaco by Burne-JonesMaria Zambaco








The images above are (left) a sketch by Burne-Jones of Maria Zambaco for his painting "The Beguiling of Merlin", and (centre) detail from his painting of Cupid and Psyche (1870) which is basically a portrait of Maria Zambaco.

Maria Zambaco (born in London April 29th 1843, family name Cassavetti) was a first cousin of Constantine Ionides.

She was a sculptor, but is better known as a model for other artists. Her features also appear repeatedly in the paintings of Rossetti's friend Edward Burne-Jones, whose affair with the tempestuous Zambaco in the late 1860s came close to wrecking his domestic and artistic existence.

A painter and sculptor in her own right, she is more remembered for the numerous images created by Pre-Raphaelite painters. Born Marie Terpsithea Cassavetti to Greek nobility, wealth, and high position she was a noted beauty, known along with her cousins Aglaia Coronio and Marie Spartali as one of the "Three Graces", but was also apparently a rather rude and unpleasant girl who tended to scare away young men initially attracted by her looks.

She was only 16 when Maria married a Dr. Zambaco and moved to Paris, but when the marriage flopped she returned home, dumped her two children onto her mother, and began to study painting and sculpture.

She posed for such noted painters as Dante Gabriel Rossetti and James A. McNeill Whistler and in 1866 launched a turbulent personal and professional relationship with Edward Burne-Jones. It began when that year Burne-Jones was approached by one of his patrons, Euphrosyne Cassavetti, also known as the Greek Duchess, to paint her daughter, Maria Cassevetti Zambaco.

Although marries to Georgiana Macdonald at the time, Burne-Jones became enraptured with his new model. Significantly, Zambaco's phosphorescent white skin and dark red hair epitomised the ideals of beauty upheld by the pre-Raphaelites.

The artist's desire for his Maria, and her renouned beauty, produced an emotional strain which Georgians bore throughout the affair. Burne-Jones was constantly torn between Zambaco and his love for Georgiana and his family, especially his daughter, Margaret.

A highly emotional person, Zambaco responded in 1869 firstly by taking an overdose of laudenum, and later by an unsuccessful attempt to drown herself in Regent's Canal, which was thwarted by Burne-Jones and the police.

Georgian's discovery of the affair combined with Burne-Jones overwhelming sense of guilt precipitated its end. By 1875 the relationship was over, Maria had taken a new lover and moved to Paris.

In later years she studied painting at the Slade School and maintained a studio next to that of Burne-Jones who reportedly never spoke to her though he frequently used her as a seductress in his paintings.

Trained by Rodin, Maria became a sculptor in Paris and at her death (14th June 1914) was buried in her family's plot under her maiden name.

More detail on the affair between Burne-Jones and Maria Zambaco can be found at: