Edward Burne-Jones had long been captivated by the theme of Luna, the Roman goddess guarding the night sky. His first exploration of the allegorical female figure with the crescent moon was in the 1860s, when Burne-Jones had notably used the subject of Luna on a decorated panel in the Green Dining Room at the South Kensington Museum, designed by Philip Webb and Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. In this panel, Luna stands in a crescent moon and holds in her hands a model ship. Burne-Jones then appropriated the composition into alternative mediums: in glazed tiles and stained glass. The subject was then further articulated as he transposed a new composition into an oil painting in 1875, exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1878. The work was mentioned in Burne-Jones's autograph work-record in that year 'an oil picture of Luna - in tones of blue', sold at Christie's, Paris, from the Collection of Yves Saint Laurent et Pierre Bergé, 23 February 2009, lot 91, €1,095,400.
The present drawing is dated to circa 1895 in the catalogue of the Burlington Fine Arts Club exhibition of drawings and studies by Burne-Jones of 1899. This dating to the artist’s later life suggests that the present work may have been his final exploration of Luna, perhaps making the subject matter all the more poignant and spiritual. The figure of Luna, gliding in her classical attire, and the cosmic imagery appears to provide a beacon of solace and hope in the darkness of the night sky. Unlike the oil painting of 1875, the Luna in this drawing faces the viewer, so that we can see her face, making her more approachable and accessible. Burne-Jones evokes Luna, as not only a goddess, but also a spiritual guide to the metaphysical realms, as she floats further from the physical world, detailed at the bottom of the picture plane.
Luna exhibits Burne-Jones’s later technique, whereby gold paint and body-colour are laid onto a sheet of paper prepared with a blue ground. The result is an elaborately detailed drawing with rich colouring, as the highlights are heavily contrasted against the blue ground. The luminescence of the gold pigments create an ethereal atmosphere, fitting with the subject matter and echoing Luna’s ancient Roman name Lumina, ‘to illuminate’. These carefully crafted later drawings were finished works of art, that were intended for display. Burne-Jones’s drawing demonstrates his interest in astronomy and spiritualism, which were at the forefront of both scientific and religious debate in the 19th century, and were a source of inspiration for Burne-Jones and his contemporaries.