26 May 2012

"The Meeting on the Turret Stairs" (1864) updated

A very evocative painting, by Frederick William Burton.
‘The Meeting on the Turret Stairs’ is one of the better-known works of Frederic William Burton. The theme comes from a medieval Danish ballad which describes how Hellelil fell in love with Hildebrand, Prince of Engelland, one of her twelve personal guards. Her father orders his seven sons to kill him.
They stood at the door with spear and shield:
‘Up Lord Hildebrand! out and yield!’
He kissed me then mine eyes above:-
‘Say never my name, thou darling love’
Out of the door Lord Hildebrand sprang;
Around his head the sword he swang.
Hildebrand kills her father and six brothers before Hellelil intercedes to save the youngest. Hildebrand dies of his wounds and Hellelil herself dies shortly afterwards.
Burton did not choose a violent episode and instead freely interpreted the story, placing their farewell on the turret stairs and leaving the reason for it to the imagination. His invention of the kiss on the woman's outstretched arm and the lack of eye contact adds to the poignancy of the painting. 
Explanatory text from the National Gallery of Ireland, via the Clare County Library and the Art Blog.

(BTW - interesting use of "swang" for the past tense.)

Addendum:  A hat tip to "C," who notes that this painting has recently been voted "Ireland's Favorite Painting."
A public vote promoted by RTÉ’s competition to find the nation’s favourite painting over the past five weeks found that the Frederic William Burton piece, which hangs in the National Gallery of Ireland, polled most preferences. One in five of those who voted (22 per cent) went for the romantic 19th century depiction of a young soldier stealing an illicit kiss from his beloved as they pass on a turret stair. Burton was from Corofin, Co Clare.
The other paintings in the competition are posted here.


  1. Is this meant to be romantic? Because to me it looks like she's trying to pull her arm away and get away from him.

    1. It's very, VERY romantic. Can't you sense the forbidden love?

      I'll add some explanatory text for you.

  2. Thanks for the background story...I have always loved this painting..,

  3. "(BTW - interesting use of "swang" for the past tense.)"

    Might not strike a lot of people as odd. I must have listened to half a dozen news stories lately about how it's been 100 years since the Titanic sunk.

  4. How can you be so sure this doesn't have more to do with her perhaps using a new "Fresh Scent" fabric softener?

  5. The zig-zagging path through the space, and the contrapposto of their bodies, physically represent the rocky path of the star-crossed lovers. The "x" of his arms, her body inclining toward him and away from him at the same time, the lovely, upturned hand and arm, exposing the vulnerable nature of her situation, illustrate the hopelessness of their love...this whole painting is pure yearning and forbidden love. It is wasted on you glib, jaded people.

  6. Voted Ireland's favourite painting: http://www.thejournal.ie/irelands-favourite-painting-is-announced-and-its-a-romantic-one-462651-May2012/

    1. Very interesting. I'll add the info to the post in a couple days after I get my chores done.

      Thank you, C.

  7. The many silent women of the past relinquishing love for the pride , ignorance, vanity and greed of men

  8. This picture hangs in our bedroom. Very romantic.

  9. Such a lovely painting! Forbidden love?


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...