Friday, 14 June 2013

Love-Death: Tristan and Isolde

Rogelio de Egusquiza: The Death of Tristan and Isolde (1910)
Last week I was lucky enough to listen to a friend (along with full orchestra) sing the aria Liebestod (Love-Death) from Wagner's Tristan and Isolde. I don't normally like opera, but I can't deny that that was beautiful! It sounded a bit like this:

The story itself is a sort of spin-off from the Arthurian legends. It varies wildly in details (Wagner's version is rather different to any normal telling), but basically Sir Tristan (or Tristram) is taking Isolde (or Iseult, or Isoud, or Yseult) to her arranged marriage to King Mark(e) of Cornwall, they ingest a love potion and fall for each other, conduct an adulterous dooooomed affair which is eventually uncovered, and when they die are buried together and the trees over their graves entwine. Aww. All a bit like Game of Thrones then, but without the incest.

Arthur Rackham: How Tristram and Isoud Drank the Love Drink (1917)
It's been a pretty popular subject with artists over the years, being full of angst, sexual compulsion, fighting and moral drama (though few artists have had the guts to depict the actual shagging). Most of all, it gave Victorian and Edwardian artists an excuse to legitimately depict adultery, which would have been considered an impossibly low and offensive subject if not dressed up in romantic Arthurian guise.

John William Waterhouse: Tristan and Isolde (1916)

 Waterhouse's is probably the most famous depiction.

John Duncan (1912)

But Duncan gets reproduced a lot too.

Aubrey Beardsley (1893)

This is Beardsley - the juxtaposition of her head and his crotch is so NOT a coincidence.

Herbert Draper (1901)

Blog favourite Herbert Draper was bound to get a look-in!

Edmund Leighton (1902)

I think King Mark has spotted something going on...

August Speiss: Reunion in Death (1892)

Many of the painting focus on the deathbed scene. This comfortably (for the viewer) combines the romance and thrill of illicit sexual love with its socially-sanctioned consequence/punishment: death. All in glorious weepy detail.

Well, we can't have people getting ideas, can we?

Many more pictures here
There was even a 2006 movie, which I remember as competent but sadly lacking in sexual charisma or interest.


Kate Elmer said...

You might enjoy Knee High Theatre's Tristan and Yseult which is coincidentally playing at West Yorkshire Playhouse next week. Shagging included.

Janine Ashbless said...

Oooh! I'm tempted, Kate!

Anonymous said...

Likening me to Jessye Norman has made you my friend forever! Anska x

Janine Ashbless said...

You mean the alcohol, LARP and True Blood marathons didn't?