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Hellelil and Hildebrand by Frederic William Burton

Hellelil and Hildebrand, the meeting on the turret stairs, by Frederic William Burton

“Hellelil and Hildebrand, the Meeting on the Turret Stairs”

“Hellelil and Hildebrand, the Meeting on the Turret Stairs” by Frederic William Burton depicts an imagined romantic moment from a story with a sad ending.

The story is taken from a medieval Danish ballad, which tells the story of Hellelil, who fell in love with her personal guard Hildebrand.

Her father disapproved of the relationship and ordered her seven brothers to kill the young prince. Burton portrays the final meeting of the two lovers.

Frederic William Burton

Frederic William Burton (1816 – 1900) was an Irish painter. Educated in Dublin, he visited Germany and Bavaria in 1842.

He then started a series of trips to various parts of Europe, which allowed him to develop a profound knowledge of the works of the Old Masters.

From 1851 he spent seven years working as a painter in the service of Maximilian II of Bavaria.

Later Burton became the third director of the National Gallery, London.

During the twenty years that he held this position, he was responsible for many important purchases, among them Leonardo da Vinci’s Virgin of the Rocks, and Hans Holbein the Younger’s Ambassadors.

The number of acquisitions made to the collection during his period of office amounts to more than 500.

Background to Hellelil and Hildebrand, the Meeting on the Turret Stairs

  • Burton’s friend Whitley Stokes translated the medieval Danish ballad of Hellelil and Hildebrand in 1855.
  • Burton never painted in oils. However, the intensity of the color in this water painting is similar to that of an oil painting.
  • Burton’s technique of layering the watercolor reflects his training as a miniaturist.
  • In 2012, in an Irish poll, this painting was chosen by public vote, as Ireland’s favorite painting.

Star-Crossed Lovers

“Star-Crossed Lovers” is a phrase used to describe a pair of lovers whose relationship is often frustrated by outside forces.

The term initially meant that the stars are working against the relationship. Astrological in origin, the phrase stems from the belief that the positions of the stars ruled over people’s fates, and is best known from the play Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare.

“A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life.”
– Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet

“Star-Crossed Lovers” are often said to be doomed from the start. Famous examples exist in every culture and include:

  • Romeo and Juliet
  • Hellelil and Hildebrand
  • Pyramus and Thisbe
  • Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff
  • Lancelot and Guinevere
  • Tristan and Isolde
  • Hero and Leander
  • Pedro of Portugal and Inês de Castro
  • Pelléas and Mélisande
  • Troilus and Cressida
  • Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl
  • Layla and Majnun
  • Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai
  • Devdas and Paro (Parvati)
  • Paris of Troy and Helen of Sparta
  • Mark Antony and Cleopatra
  • Khosrow and Shirin
  • Heloise and Peter Abelard

Hellelil and Hildebrand, the Meeting on the Turret Stairs

  • Title:               Hellelil and Hildebrand, the Meeting on the Turret Stairs
  • Artist:             Frederic William Burton
  • Created:        1864
  • Medium:        Watercolor and gouache on paper
  • Dimensions:   Height: 95.5 cm (37.5 ″); Width: 60.8 cm (23.9 ″)
  • Museum:        National Gallery of Ireland

Frederic William Burton

VISITOR NOTICE: The watercolor paintings need to be protected from the light. This painting can only be viewed on certain days and within specified times. Please consult the museum’s website for the dates and times.

Helellil and Hildebrand, The Meeting On The Turret Stairs

Hellelil and Hildebrand, The Meeting on the Turret Stairs, 1864.

Explore the Kiss

William Frederic Burton

Explore the National Gallery of Ireland

Burton’s ‘The Meeting on the Turret Stairs’


“The act of painting is about one heart telling another heart where they found salvation.“
– Francisco de Goya


Photo Credit 1) Frederic William Burton [Public domain]

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