Love among the ruins
I was going by Birmingham, so dropped in on my friend R, and we went to Wightwick (say, Wittick), a National Trust property. It was built in the late 19th century, with all modern conveniences- electric light and central heating- as a pastiche of various architectural styles, to look like an old manor house which had been extended over the centuries, with sufficient clues that it was not. So, in the Great Hall, the minstrel’s gallery is at the far end from the main door rather than above that door; and the decoration near ceiling level has a kangaroo. It is not timber-framed, there are metal frames under brick. That entrance porch: if it were really Elizabethan, it would be at right angles to the building, rather than askew.
At the far end of that Great Hall is Love among the Ruins, a Burne-Jones painting of his lover Maria Zambaco. I found it so moving that I had to look away from it. For ruins, apart from that collapsed pillar and a few brambles, the buildings look surprisingly well-kempt, especially through that doorway, right. With the lighting, if the main characters are outside, it could be another world.
I found the beauty, love and trust in that pose so complete that I could hardly bear to look at her. And yet: the man’s eyes are half-closed, and hers are open. Seeing or unseeing? Two entirely different interpretations.
The Aberdeen art gallery leant prints, and I lived with King Cophetua and the Beggar-maid for a time, looking at his love, and imagining a dialogue of the pages at the top of the painting. I like it well enough, still, to share it with you:
His Goddess he beholds!
-until she speaks
What then? Does not the beauty of her face
have power to atone for accident of birth?
her air, simplicity
Her shoulders stooped, uncouth
Unlike the finest ladies of the court,
who prattle poetry, her eyes, they speak
until her fair lips speak.
And so this moment she is worth them all.
What is to come can never that destroy.