(click to enlarge)
Oil on canvas
Here an ancient Breton song that was probably known to Georgiana [Burne-Jone's wife] provides the subject and the title for the painting: Hélas! je sais un chant d'amor/Triste ou gai, Tour á tour (Alas, I know a love song/Sad or merry, each in turn). The work depicts an organist with a figure representing Love working the bellows. The figure of Love is sightless ('love is blind'), while Burne-Jones's abiding interest in the language of flowers is manifest un the painting, where tulips (symbolizing 'ardent love') and wallflowers ('bitterness') jointly represent the contradictory emotions expressed in the song.
And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:
And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
Receive my instruction, and not silver; and knowledge rather than choice gold.
For wisdom is better than rubies; and all the things that may be desired are not to be compared to it.
This painting tells the story of a seven year old boy whose throat was cut for singing a Christian song in a Jewish city in Asia, but miraculously continued to sing when the Virgin Mary placed grain in his mouth. He died soon afterwards and was buried as a martyr. The flower symbolism of the white lily represents purity, that of the red poppy consolation, the dwarf sunflower adoration and the wallflower fidelity in adversity.