'The Venusburg Legend' by Maistre Antoine Gaget (1530) was the source for William Morris' 'Hill of Venus' in his 'Earthly Paradise'. It tells of 'a certain young man, who by strange adventure, fell into the power of Venus, and who, repenting of his life with her, was fain to return to the world and amend all, but might not.' The young man's name is Walter, and must gain forgiveness for his sins from the Pope himself. But, because his sin is so great, the Pope proclaims Walter as likely to be absolved as his own staff turrning into a flower (which it later does).
According to Fortunee de Lisle, the drawings for this subject were executed before Morris' poem had actually been written. Burne-Jones made 20 drawings in all for this story (the finished versions are in the Ashmolean Museum). These designs are final tracing states, or advanced stages in the working out of this composition. They have not been drawn over on the reverse. De Lisle dates the designs for this subject 1867-68.
This study is one of thirteen preliminary tracing states for woodblocked engravings. The Pope is lying in a bed in an alcove, from which the curtains have been drawn back. He has just been roused by a monk, standing to the left of centre, and pointing with his left hand to an ecclesiastic in a chasuble, who is entering the room from the left, bearing on high the Pope's staff, which has blossomed with flowers.