A small pocket-book of this time contains a note made by Edward from a canal-bridge in a poor quarter of the city, which nearly thirty years afterwards he developed into the background of his “Aurora”. The main outlines of building and canal are preserved in the picture, and Aurora with her cymbals comes lightly stepping along a waterside path from which in the original sketch a woman stoops to bathe her baby, but the canal has changed into an arm of a river and the houses have been welded into the long, low storage-places of a wharf, crowned by a great church lifted up against the sky. He enjoyed making up stories to himself about his backgrounds, as he painted them; and one day as he was working on “Aurora” he did a very unusual thing, for the humour seized him to think aloud, and he spun out a whole history of the place, “You see the city gets poorer as it gets toward the church,” he said,”which makes it more interesting–the rich people have gone to live further off. It has had many epochs: first the Roman–you may see remains of that in the foundations: then was an oligarchic government, following on a time of anarchy and disaster, that put up many fine buildings, and some of them still remain. Then came an epoch of trade, capricious and varying in locality, that produced the strangest results on its architecture, one part of the town cutting out another by setting up nearer the sea further down the river, then being driven back again for reasons that can’t be found out now–traces of prosperity and decay succeeding each other.” (written by Georgiana Burne-Jones in Memorials of Edward Burne-Jones, vol. I)
Although the background was taken from a canal in Oxford, you can definitely see the influence from Burne-Jones’ trips to Italy as well. In mythology, Aurora personifies the dawn and is seen here using her cymbals to awaken the city to a new day. For comparison, you can see Evelyn De Morgan’s painting of Aurora’s Greek counterpart: Eos.