The Painting: “The Meeting on the Turret Stairs,” watercolour on paper, (1864) is held by the National Gallery of Ireland, in Dublin. The artwork is based on the tragic tale of Hellelil and Hildebrand, who dared to fall in love despite their different social positions. She was a princess and he was one of her father’s common soldiers. The couple suffer the inevitable fate of defiant youth in medieval romances. Hildebrand is sentenced to death and meets Hellelil for their last brief encounter before his sentence is carried out.
About the Artist: Sir Frederic William Burton was born on 8th April 1816 at Corofin House, County Clare, in Ireland. At the age of 16 he was accepted into the Royal Hibernian Academy and by the 1840s was considered the most important painter in Ireland. During the famine years he traveled to Germany and by 1855 had moved to London.
In 1874, he became the third director of the National Gallery. During his directorship he managed to successfully negotiate a special grant to acquire the art collection of Alexander Barker, which included Piero della Francesca’s, Nativity and Botticelli’s Venus and Mars. According to Wikipedia, during his post as Director, he was responsible for many important purchases, amongst them: Leonardo da Vinci’s Virgin of the Rocks, Raphael’s Ansidei Madonna, Anthony van Dyck’s equestrian portrait of Charles I, Hans Holbein the Younger’s Ambassadors; and the Admiral Pulido Pareja, by Diego Velázquez (which was subsequently attributed to Velázquez’s assistant Juan Bautista Martínez del Mazo). Although Burton died in London on 16 March 1900, he was buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery in Dublin.