Saturday 10 December 2022

Saturday 10th December - The Meeting on the Turret Stairs

Well, my boiler has broken down so it is very chilly here at Chez Walker but we have blankets and fluffy socks so we will survive until Wednesday when the Boiler Man cometh.  I remember the Winter of 2000 when we were poor, we had no heating for the entire time and we managed to survive.  Mind you, I got horrific bronchitis but there you go.  Stay warm, my lovelies, and let's crack on with a splendid murder...

The Meeting on the Turret Stair (1864) Frederic William Burton

Gosh, I've been looking forward to this one as it is one of my favourite paintings and it is such a jolly murder. It is also the most beloved painting in Ireland, apparently.  I have it on a tote bag and everything. I digress.  Here we have Hellelil passing Hildebrand on the steps of a turret where Hellelil and her family lived.  Hildebrand was part of the armed guard her father had arranged for his daughter, but the pair had fallen in love. Let's just say 'The End' and leave it there, shall we? Of course not, because like so many stories like this, it does not end well...

Isabella (1849) John Everett Millais

Whenever I see the Turret Stair painting, I always end up thinking of this picture by Millais, as the story has a lot in common.  A girl falls in love with a possibly unsuitable boy (as far as her family are concerned) and therefore stabbing ensues.   Poor old Lorenzo, here sharing his blood orange with his beloved Isabella (women love a blood orange), didn't stand a chance and ends up fertilising her herb garden (not a euphemism).  When Hildebrand is accosted by Hellelil's father and brothers a massive fight ensues and he takes out all but one of the brothers.  Hellelil calls for mercy for her youngest brother and Hildebrand, badly wounded, falls to the floor, dead.

Tragedy, also available in green...

Now, when Hildebrand knew he was going to have to fight Hellelil's family, he said to her not to speak his name or else it would mean his death - 'Name me not, lest my death thou be', but when he was merrily slashing through her family she calls to him to spare her little brother. Well, there we go then.  The little brother is not exactly grateful for her sacrifice, and instead ties her to his horse saddle and takes her off home with the intention of killing her.  Families, t'uh. Mum has a better idea and swaps her for a whopping great big bell.  Bear with me, this is all completely normal. Anyway, Hellelil tells her mother her story and the great bell rings, and Hellelil dies in her mother's arms.  In Burton's friend Whitley Stokes's translation of the original Danish tale (most likely where the inspiration for the painting came from) the ungrateful younger brother tortures her, sells her into slavery and then she dies.  William Morris's poem on the subject brings us the strange detail of the bell.  Burton chooses to focus on a less gory element of the story, a moment of passion between the two as they pass in the castle.  I am reminded of this sort of thing...

The Black Brunswicker (1860) John Everett Millais

I could have easily gone with the Huguenot one instead but there are a few Millais paintings that touch on romance that is doomed, or love in the face of death.  I love The Black Brunswicker especially as the handsome young man who is portraying the doomed Brunswicker off to perish at the Battle of Quatre Bras was actually a soldier who died shortly afterwards.  That's commitment. Anyway, Burton's couple come from a Pre-Raphaelite genre of doomed lovers parting - sure, it's not an actual moment of danger exactly, Helle and Hilde are only passing on a stair, but the swift embrace he pulls her into is enough to seal their fate. It is also bad luck to pass on a staircase - superstition apart, this might be to do with being attacked on a stair and your sword being inaccessible due to being against the wall.  Look at where Hildebrand's sword is tucked at an awkward angle, inferring that his passion for Hellelil is putting him at a disadvantage and at risk. Well, that's an understatement.

I understand that people of wealth and station looked to their daughters to make advantageous matches in order to secure lands and even more wealth but for goodness sake, is all this kerfuffle worth it?  Remember, if a relative brings someone home for Christmas who you don't think is right for them, violence is never the answer.  Even if it does result in a big shiny new bell or a lovely crop of basil.

See you tomorrow.

1 comment:

  1. Families, eh? Especially at Christmas...
    I've always been amazed by the photo realism of the silk/satin dress and damp where the wall paper is bubbling in the Millais painting. Am I right in thinking Charles Dickens' daughter Kate was the model for the lady?
    "ends up fertilising her herb garden (not a euphemism)" made me laugh!
    On to the next happy story...
    Best wishes


Many thanks for your comment. I shall post it up shortly! Kx