Frederick William Burton – The Meeting On The Turret Stairs

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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.

[full text of ballad](

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.


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