Merlin building Stonehenge (14th century) from Folio 30r of British Library, Egerton 3028.

The Arthurian magus in art and illustration. Despite the antiquity of the Arthur legend there doesn’t seem to be much early representation of Merlin outside a few drawings in old manuscripts. The British Library’s folio showing the raising of Stonehenge is the oldest known depiction of the ancient structure.

Most of the pictures here are illustrations for the Merlin and Vivien section of Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, the first book of which was published in 1859. Vivien (or Viviane, Nimue, etc) is the sorcerous Lady in the Lake who either imprisons Merlin underground or in a tree depending on whose account you read. Edward Burne-Jones’ The Beguiling of Merlin has long been my favourite of that artist’s paintings. This is only a very small selection of possible pictures, of course. A more complete catalogue would include Nicol Williamson in John Boorman’s Excalibur (1981), a performance that some find overly mannered but one that I’ve always enjoyed.


Merlin and Vivien (1867) by Gustave Doré.


The Beguiling of Merlin (1874) by Edward Burne-Jones.


Merlin (1894) by Aubrey Beardsley.


Merlin and Vivien (1902) by HJ Ford.


The Enchanter Merlin (1903) by Howard Pyle.


Merlin and Vivien (1911) by Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale.


Merlin and Vivien (1912) by Lancelot Speed.


Merlin and Nimue (1917) by Arthur Rackham.


Merlin taking away the infant Arthur (1922) by NC Wyeth.


Merlin and Arthur (1983) by Burne Hogarth.

3 thoughts on “Merlin”

  1. I actually live five minutes walk from the Burne-Jones painting, so know every square inch of it. Always been my favourite of his paintings as well. The Beardsley is inevitably an image I love but I also really rate Alan Lee’s drawing of Merlin in a feather cloak. A successful shamanic interpretation of the character, no doubt influenced in part by Nicol Williamson’s ‘a nightmare to others’ dramatic flourish.

  2. I agree with you 100% about the movie Excalibur. I think it’s a beautiful moving treatment of the Arthur legend. Some of the scenes in it look like pre-Raphaelite paintings. I am sure Jon Boorman had this in mind.
    The scene toward the end of the movie when Arthur tosses Excalibur back into the lake and her hand rises out to catch it is heart breaking.

  3. Dave C: Thanks, I’d not seen the Alan Lee drawing before. A marvellous piece.

    Richard: Yes, there’s a definite Pre-Raphaelite quality to Boorman’s film, especially that shot of the boat at the very end. I keep hoping it will get a proper release on Blu-ray at some point, the DVD doesn’t do it any favours.

Comments are closed.

Discover more from { feuilleton }

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading