Edmund Leighton (1852-1922)
“The King and the Beggar-maid” (1898)
Oil on canvas
Currently in a private collection
“The King and the Beggar-maid” tells the story of King Cophetua and his love for the beggar Penelophon. According to tradition, Cophetua was an African king known for his lack of any sexual attraction to women. One day while looking out a palace window he witnesses a young beggar (Penelophon). Struck by love at first sight, Cophetua decides that he will either have the beggar as his wife or commit suicide. Walking out into the street, he scatters coins for the beggars to gather and when Penelophon comes forward, he tells her that she is to be his wife. She agrees and becomes queen. The couple lives a “quiet life” but are much loved by their people. Eventually they die and are buried in the same tomb.