This is a subject from John Keats’s (1795-1821) poem ‘The Eve of St Agnes’. Madeline is shown preparing for bed in her chamber after evening prayer. Her true love, Porphyro, will appear at midnight on the Eve of St Agnes. Madeline’s family disapprove of Porphyro, but he manages to reach her and hide in the closet until they can make their escape.
Maclise has paid careful attention to Keats’s text. He has included the lute which Porphyro will play to her, a recently extinguished candle, and the string of pearls that she unwinds from her hair.