Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Meeting on the Turret Stairs

Note:***Students, DO NOT EXPLORE THE BACKGROUND INFORMATION on this painting until completing the activity described below.***

Frederic William Burton (1816-1900)

Hellelil and Hilderbrand, The Meeting on the Turret Stairs

Watercolour and gouache on paper, 95.5 x 60.8 cm
Bequeathed, Miss Margaret Stokes, 1900

After exploring the National Gallery of Ireland, I made my usual trek back to the gallery gift shop to see what kind of damage I could do. I was immediately taken back by the striking and romantic image which adorned the National Gallery coffee table book (one of my traditional art museum purchases). The Meeting on the Turret Stairs showed up throughout the gift shop on books, prints, and post cards. I could not restrain myself; I grabbed each and every item with the painting including a refrigerator magnet for my collection. The problem was, I had not seen the original in the museum! I asked Dr. Santoli and she agreed, we missed it or it was not displayed. We asked at the checkout and found the reply made the painting even more enticing. It is only revealed for an hour, three times a week due to the fragile state of the the watercolor painting. We were both also quite surprised that it is a watercolor. The rich vibrant colors in the images we saw in the gift shop looked like they were created with oil paints. We will head back to the museum for the one hour viewing on Wednesday and I will certainly update this post with our impressions of the original.

Meanwhile, as art and social studies educators, Dr. Santoli and I thought, what a great visual image this is for "artful thinking". Artful Thinking at the Harvard Project Zero site includes fabulous resources based on research for visual literacy including the Beginning, Middle, or End Routine. 

"This routine is a springboard for imaginative exploration. It uses the power of narrative to help students make observations and use their imagination to elaborate on and extend their ideas. Its emphasis on storytelling also encour-ages students to look for connections, patterns, and meanings."

After viewing Frederic William Burton's The Meeting on the Turret Stairs, please choose one of the questions and respond:

Beginning, Middle, or End
A routine for observing and imagining
Choose one of these questions:
  1. If this artwork is the beginning of a story, what might happen next?
  2. If it this artwork is the middle of a story, what might have happened before? What might be about to happen?
  3. If this artwork is the end of a story, what might the story be?
-- Use your imagination --


Michael Oakwood said...

It appears to me we are looking at the middle of a story. The male is her husband, and he has just informed her he has been called to back to duty. He has just told her he will be leaving soon to fight for the country. She cannot bear to see him leave again, not knowing if he will return to he alive. She cannot look at his face, as she has her face turned away from him. He is holding her arm, promising her that he loves her and he will soon return to her.

John Hadley Strange said...

Interesting idea Michael. I won't offer mine so that I do not influence the students. I will just say this is an excellent way to get students involved in art, using their imaginations, being creative, and in writing. Not to mention the use of technology as a tool in learning. Wonderful!

Paige Vitulli said...

Love your interpretation Michael. Thanks for getting us started. I very much agree with your support of the strategy for arts and technology integration and appreciation Dr. Strange

Susan Santoli said...

Hi, Michael. I wish I could have you all here with me. Thanks so much for your response. We thought this was a perfect beginning, middle, end activity. We can't wait to see this in person on Wednesday. It will be interesting to see what other students think!

Hillary Hayes said...

Being an art enthusiast and a hopeful history teacher, I thought this was a great assignment. It requires the students to research the painting to find background information and it also triggers their creative skills. What do you think is going to happen? What do you think already happened? What do you think they are doing? What is your interpretation of this painting? Assignments like this aid in instilling appreciation of the arts. It also helps solidify history. They can see the workmanship that was put into it so long ago and makes them think more deeply about the work.

Windy Powell said...

I think this is the middle of the story like Michael said. It certainly appears as if the man and woman are married and he has told her he must go back to war. I had thought of that while looking at the painting before reading anyone’s comments but I think Michael has done a great job of evaluating the situation. The man is obviously a soldier of some type based on his clothing. He is wearing his armor, with his sword attached and holding his helmet. The woman appears to be pained or heartbroken even. Her head is turned away from him and facing downward as if she may be trying to pull herself together enough to tell him goodbye. I think the way in which the man is holding her arm says he loves her deeply and seeing her upset is the last thing he ever wants. I think he is trying to comfort her and in a way by her turning away she may be trying to protect him by not letting him see her cry or be so upset. It appears to me this is a private moment between the two as wife prepares to send her husband off to war (maybe for first time) and the husband prepares to say good bye knowing he may not ever come back to see his beautiful wife again.

Susan Santoli said...

Wendy, very nice interpretation!

Courtney Block said...

Dr. Vitulli,

I must say I think that we made a mistake in letting you go to Ireland. I'm afraid we will never get you back. USA would be losing a fabulous teacher! I hope you are enjoying yourself.
This painting is absolutely breath taking, and it is made with watercolors! What an interesting and unique way to paint! If this painting was at the middle of the story ,it would be more like a Romeo and Juliet scene, but a little different. I see that this fair lady is upset with this soldier because he is about to go off to war. He is trying to save his country from invasion. The fair lady begs him not to go and when he declines her request she turns he face and walks away without so much as a kiss goodbye. Then the soldier yells to her that he loves her and gets on his white horse and rides away. Until one day the fair lady receives a note in one months time saying that her soldier died an honorable death, but the body could not be recovered. The fair lady weeps for weeks or even months she then goes on to a banquet in all the soldier’s honors and meets another. They fall in love, but what happens next? Her presumed dead soldier returns from the grave! What happens next you can think of on your own.
Once again beautiful painting imaginations can wander as far as the eye can see. Wish I was there! Enjoy Ireland for the rest of us!

Courtney Block

Susan Santoli said...

Oh, Courtney, you added some additional intrigue!

Paige Vitulli said...

Great interpretation Courtney and I am back! I will share the story this is based on in class after everyone who chooses has a chance to respond.

Paige Ellis - EDU 301 said...

My first reaction this painting was, love affair. Still new, maybe in the middle of their developing story, she is retiring for the evening to join her husband in their quarters. As she is making her way up the staircase, her forbidden lover reaches for her...just a touch. She longs to be with him, but is torn between her covenant with her husband. What comes next is surely to end tragically.

Paige Vitulli said...

Ahhh...very perceptive Paige. Stay tuned for more interpretations!

Frances Judd said...

I love the idea of creative, critical thinking integrated into the arts! My interpretation of this watercolor is that we are jumping into the middle of an intense, forbidden love affair between two rivaling families in a kingdom. The man and woman are dressed in distinctly different colors. The man is wearing red (a symbol of war), wearing mesh armor, and carrying a sword while the lady is dressed in a beautiful, blue flowing gown. I believe the man has snuck into the castle of the lady to presuade her to leave with him. She is deeply in love, yet confused and torn emotionally because of her loyalty to her family. Her calm face lets us know that she is at peace when he is touching her; but the way her head is hung and turned away from him tells me that she feels what she is doing is wrong so cannot give into his persuasions. She appears to be in mid-stride but has stopped there because although she cannot linger long, she wants just a few more moments with her lover's touch. The slight grin approaching on his face as he clings to her arm lets us know how in love he truly is, and his reluctance to let go. Although I believe their love is forbidden by their family's, it is obvious how necessary they are to each other in this moment. I believe at this particular moment she has just told him that she cannot go with him and he is nobly retreating down the stairs. His left leg appears to be in front of the other, yet he seems to be in no real hurry. The shadows and close quarters of the stairwell further my interpretation that this love affair is forbidden.

Paige Vitulli said...

What a beautifully written interpretation Frances! These are ideas novels are made of.

Ewe Sheep said...

My name is Katrina Harville and I am a student in EDU 301 at the University of South Alabama. I found the blog on Ireland during Dr. Vitulli's trip there, and I read some of the posts. This painting, in particular, caught my attention more than anything else. It is absolutely beautiful! The second that you see this painting, your mind automatically begins to try to figure out what is going on in this story. My first thoughts were as follows: This is a husband and wife, in the middle of their story. They love each other deeply. He has just been called away to war again, and both are uncertain if he will return safely this time. She has watched him go before, but this time she cannot bear to watch him leave, so she turns her head away. He embraces her arm, his eyes closed, a symbol of his true love for her. Although no one can know the outcome of the story just from the painting itself, you can almost sense the forthcoming news of his unfortunate death during battle.