In his own life Burne-Jones had become infatuated with one of his admirers, Mary Zambaco, whom he remained close with during the early 1870s. The Beguling of Merlin and the story of Vivian and Merlin is taken from Arthurian legend. Merlin had fallen in love with Vivian and she profited from his infatuation by learning his skills in enchantment. Int he painting she is shown sending Merlin into a deep sleep.
Oscar Wilde described Burne-Jones’ painting The Beguiling of Merlin as being “full of magic.”
Then, in one moment, she put forth the charm
Of woven paces and of waving hands,
And in the hollow oak he lay as dead,
And lost to life and use and name and fame.
Then crying ‘I have made his glory mine,’
And shrieking out ‘O fool!’ the harlot leapt
Adown the forest, and the thicket closed
Behind her, and the forest echoed ‘fool.’
— from Merlin and Vivian by Lord Alfred Tennyson