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The Merciful Knight

The Merciful Knight, 1863

Watercolour with bodycolour.
1014mm x 586mm
Purchased, 1973.

Accession Number:



A knight kneels before a Crucifix, as Christ leans down to embrace him.


Exhibition History

1864 Old Watercolour Society
1892-93 New Gallery, London
1896 Goupil Gallery
1898-99 New Gallery, London
1923 Tate Gallery
1933 Tate Gallery
1934 Royal Academy of Arts
1956 National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth
1969 Galeria Civica d'Arte Moderna, Turin
1971 Mappin Art Gallery, Sheffield
1975-76 Hayward Gallery, London; Southampton City Art Gallery; Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery
1984 Tate Gallery, London
1989-90 Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle-upon-Tyne
1990-91 Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington
1993 Tate Gallery, London
1995-96 Seattle Art Museum, Washington; The Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio; Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington; The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; High Museum of Art, Atlanta; Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery
1998-99 Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery; Musee d'Orsay, Paris


Critical Review. Athenaeum: 30 April 1864. p. 618.
Critical Review. Art Journal: 1864. p. 170.
E. Clifford. Broadlands as It Was. Illustrated London News: 1890. p. 56.
Malcolm Bell. Edward Burne-Jones: A Record and a Review. George Bell & Sons: 1892. pp. 21,37,97.
Julia Cartwright. Review. The Art Annual: 1894. pp. 11-12.
Otto von Schleinitz. Burne-Jones. Bielefeld & Leipzig: 1901. p. 17 (repro).
Fortunee de Lisle. Burne-Jones. Methuen & Co.: 1904. pp. 67, 69-74.
Georgiana Burne-Jones. Memorials of Edward Burne-Jones. Macmillan & Sons: 1904. Vol. I, pp. 261-262; Vol. II, p. 231.
Martin Harrison and Bill Waters. Burne-Jones. Barrie & Jenkins: 1973. p. 76, fig. 94.
Mary Lago. Burne-Jones Talking: His Studio Conversations. University of Michigan: 1985. p. 107.
Simbolismo en Europe. Centro Atlantico de Arte Moderna, Canary Islands: 1990. pp-57-58 (repro).
Christopher Wood. Burne-Jones. Weidenfeld & Nicolson: 1998. pp. 42 (repro), 44.
Allen J. Frantzen. Chivalry, Sacrifice & The Great War: The Medieval Contexts of Edward Burne-Jones' "The Miracle of the Merciful Knight" (from 'Speaking Images. Essays in Honor of V.A. Kolve'). Pegasus Press, The University of North Carolina at Asheville: 2001. pp. 618-625 (repro).
Patrick Bade. Edward Burne-Jones. Paradise Books: 2004. p.33, fig. 19.
Elisa Korb with John Christian and Tessa Sidey. Hidden Burne-Jones, Works on paper by Edward Burne-Jones from Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery. Dan Giles, Ltd., London: 2007. p. 76, B520.

Research Information:

This is arguably Burne-Jones's most important early work. In the memorial biography of her husband, Georgiana Burne-Jones stated that it seemed "to sum up and seal the ten years that had passed since Edward first went to Oxford". In terms of design, technique and expression, the picture demonstrates that Burne-Jones had reached a new and more personal style. It remained Burne-Jones's own favourite among his early works and in 1894 he tried to borrow it to make a large oil version.

The subject is taken from the life of the Florentine knight St John Gualberto, founder of the Valombrosan Order in 1039, who was miraculously embraced by a wooden figure of Christ while praying at a wayside shrine after forgiving the murder of his kinsman. This obscure legend was unlikely to be familiar to a wide audience and this further enhanced its mystical and intensely poetic quality. Incidentially, the marigolds in the foreground came from the 'town garden' in Russell Square, close to Burne-Jones's house at this time, opposite the British Museum.