Here is the muse

THEY say that behind every successful man is a woman. It might also be said that behind every successful artist is a muse. It was in 1965 that artist Andy Warhol met his muse, the 22-year-old heiress Edie Sedgwick, whose life is profiled in Factory Girl - starring Sienna Miller - which opens in the UK next month.

The strikingly beautiful model captivated the artist and quickly became his constant companion. As well as inspiring Warhol's work, she was the inspiration for Lou Reed's Femme Fatale and it has been suggested that she sparked much of Bob Dylan's Blonde on Blonde.

Sedgwick is just one of a legion of women who have inspired some of the world's greatest artists, writers and musicians. The poet Robert Graves described the artist's muse as "a woman in whom the goddess is to some degree resident". This is an appropriate description considering the classical origins of the role. In ancient Greece, the nine Muses were goddesses of the arts who provided inspiration for artists, sculptors and writers. They represented the manifestation of the perfect woman, of unobtainable love and dreamy, inspirational beauty.

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"The artist's muse will often be a young, beautiful woman," says Richard Thomson, the Watson Gordon Professor of Fine Art at Edinburgh University. "This is partly down to the fact that the artist might be looking to beauty to create a beautiful work of art, and partly down to libido. The muse will often be unobtainable. Artists often feel they cannot obtain true beauty in their work, and the pursuit of an unobtainable beautiful woman parallels that work."

The company of a beautiful muse has inspired men across the arts. Zelda Fitzgerald, wife of writer F Scott Fitzgerald, is said to have been the real-life model for golden girl Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby, while Marianne Faithfull was muse to rocker Mick Jagger. And Alma Mahler was muse to composer Gustav Mahler, the architect Walter Gropius and artist Gustav Klimt, with whom she shared her first kiss.

A muse is used regularly by many well-known male artists. However, there are few instances where female artists have turned men into muses. The few examples include Charlotte Bront's unrequited yearning for the married Monsieur Constantin Heger, her tutor, who became the model for Mr Rochester in Jane Eyre and for Paul Emmanuel in Villette, and Emily Dickinson's passion for her unidentified "Master" to whom she addressed some of her most fevered poems.

In her book The Lives of the Muses: Nine Women and the Artists They Inspired, Francine Prose writes: "Artists rarely create for the muse, to win or keep the muse's love and admiration, but rather for themselves , for the world, and for the more inchoate and unquantifiable imperatives of art itself. Muses are merely the instruments that raise the emotional and erotic temperature high enough, churn up the weather in a way that may speed and facilitate the artist's labours.''

These women have sparked incredible works of art, literature and music. We've picked five such women, to examine their lives, the men who loved them and the work they inspired.


LEONARDO sketched her. Lorenzo de Medici threw lavish banquets in her honour. Pulci and Poliziano composed great poems for her and young men fell in love with her on the spot. One of those young men was painter Sandro Botticelli for whom the striking Simonetta Cattaneo personified beauty and goodness. Proud of her beauty, she once announced to Botticelli: "I will be your lady Venus. You shall paint me rising from the waves."

And so he did. Cattaneo married nobleman Marco Vespucci, at the tender age of 15, and upon arriving in Florence after her marriage, she was discovered by Botticelli, who immortalised her in Pallas and the Centuar, Mars and Venus and Primavera and The Birth of Venus among others.

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While there are suggestions that Cattaneo was Botticelli's mistress (in nearly all his paintings of her she appears almost completely nude) her prominent social standing and his social difficulties with women make this unlikely. Cattaneo died aged 22, but Botticelli continued to use her likeness in his work, completing The Birth of Venus in 1485, nine years after her death. In 1510, while on his deathbed, he asked to be buried at her feet.


THE Florentine poet Dante Alighieri met his muse, Beatrice Portinari, in Florence in 1274, when he was nine years old and she was eight, and he fell in love with her immediately. However, they didn't meet again until nine years later, when one afternoon Alighieri encountered Beatrice walking down a street in Florence. When she greeted him, he was filled with such joy that he retreated to his room, fell asleep thinking of her, and had a dream that became the subject of the first sonnet in La Vita Nuova.

This second meeting was to be their last, yet Alighieri remained obsessed with her throughout his life after she died at the age of 24. After her death, Alighieri withdrew into intense study, and began composing poems dedicated to her memory. It was the collection of these poems, along with others he had previously written in his journal in awe of Beatrice, that became La Vita Nuova.

He wrote: "She has ineffable courtesy, is my beautitude, the destroyer of all vices and the queen of virtue, salvation." However, since their relationship had no contact, the Beatrice of his works was shaped entirely by his mind. He once called her "La gloriosa donna della mia mente": "the glorious lady of my mind".

As well as being the principal inspiration for La Vita Nuova, Beatrice also appears in The Divine Comedy: Paradise and in the last four cantos of Purgatory.


PICASSO met French photographer and painter Dora Maar in Paris in 1936, when she was 28 and he was 54. He was attracted to her dark eyes and jet-black hair, as well as the fact she spoke fluent Spanish. Their stormy relationship lasted nearly nine years, during which Picasso made many sketches, watercolours and paintings of her, as a bird or a sphinx as well as a human and, most famously, in the 1937 painting Weeping Woman.

Picasso called Maar his "private muse", and for him she was the weeping woman in many ways. She suffered from his moods during their affair and she was jealous of Picasso's wife, Olga, and mistress, Marie-Thrse Walter, who had given Picasso a daughter. This was compounded when Maar discovered she was infertile. Picasso once said the anguished nature of his Dora portraits was beyond his control: "For years I've painted her in tortured forms, obeying a vision that forced itself on me."

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Maar kept Picasso's paintings of her until her death in 1997 and, in 2006, one of his portraits, Dora Maar au Chat, was auctioned at Sotheby's for 48.8 million, making it the world's second-most expensive painting ever sold at auction.


A SUPERMODEL and photographer, Boyd became the inspiration for some of the greatest love songs of the past 40 years. After meeting on the set of A Hard Day's Night, she married George Harrison in 1966, during the Beatles' heyday. She was the inspiration for one of Harrison's most famous Beatles songs, Something, which was called "the greatest love song ever written" by Frank Sinatra.

During their marriage, Harrison's friend Eric Clapton also fell in love with Boyd. His unrequited love for her consumed him, and his tortured passion for his friend's wife produced one of his most famous songs, Layla. His desire for her drove him to a heroin addiction, but she eventually divorced Harrison in 1977, and married Clapton in 1979.

However, despite the outward image of the perfect couple, years of affairs, violence and alcoholism on his part forced Boyd to divorce him in 1988.

John Lennon and Mick Jagger confessed to having had crushes on Boyd, with the latter admitting that he'd tried and failed to seduce her for years.

She also had an affair with Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood in 1973, as her marriage to Harrison was ending, but left him heartbroken, influencing the song Breathe on Me.


IN HIS autobiography, For the Islands I Sing, Orcadian poet George Mackay Brown writes: "Some modern poets have their muse, a woman who transfigures their work and guides them like a star, stella maris. This girl was actually called Stella."

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George Mackay Brown met Stella Cartwright during his time as an undergraduate in Edinburgh when he was 35 and she was 20. Tall, buxom and beautiful, with blue eyes and a mass of hair, those who knew her have compared her classical beauty to a creation by Rubens or Botticelli, and one admirer said that "she seemed built for love". Mackay Brown felt immediately at ease with her despite his paralysing shyness, and she awoke in him "a delight I had not known before".

Mackay Brown wrote her letters and poems and continued to write to her after they had parted, recalling their days in Edinburgh together, reading poetry, walking in the Pentlands and kissing one wet Saturday afternoon beside the Water of Leith. While it was not a full-blown affair, the two were extremely close, and she had an invigorating effect on his writing. In one of a sequence of four poems dedicated to her he wrote:

Cargoes of alien pain

Tenderly she transmutes

To quiet things

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