Artist Edward Burne-Jones depicted this scene of Merlin and Nimue early in his career (1861), during which time he was still heavily under the stylistic influence of the Pre-Raphaelite poet and painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Rossetti's artistic influence can be seen perhaps best in the image of Nimue, so let us look at this figure in more detail.
Nimue, the Arthurian sorceress, stands coyly in the foreground. She is depicted clutching a large book - a spell book, perhaps? The form of Nimue resembles the typical Rossettian woman, for like many of Rossetti's 'stunners' she is lush, sensual, surrounded by voluptuous garments, and has thick waves of auburn hair. In these ways Nimue evokes a Pre-Raphaelite femme fatale.
In addition, it is worth noting that Nimue appears to be glancing back at Merlin disdainfully, while the old magician clasps his hand to his heart and stares at the young enchantress with a worried expression. Indeed, he has cause to worry, as the painting portrays how Nimue "caused Merlin to pass under a heaving-stone into a grave" by means of her skill in the art of sorcery.
Compare and contrast this painting to the work The Beguiling of Merlin, also by Edward Burne-Jones.
Subtitled "The Life and Works of Sir Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898)", this book by Christopher Wood explores one of the most fascinating artists of the Nineteenth century. In chapters devoted to the relationship between Burne-Jones and Rossetti, the Aesthetic Movement, and Fame, we learn about this compelling and talented painter.
This lovely book by Andrea Rose captures the essence of Pre-Raphaelite art using a series of images from several artists.