Walter Howell Deverell, Twelfth Night (1850)

Oil on canvas, size approximately 40 x 52 inches, Forbes Magazine Collection, New York City.


The love-sick Duke Orsino, pining for the Countess Olivia who shows no interest in him, uses music to assuage his grief; Twelfth Night opens with the Duke mooning over the power of music:
If music be the food of love, play on;
Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.
That strain again! it had a dying fall:
O, it came o'er my ear like the sweet sound,
That breathes upon a bank of violets,
Stealing and giving odour! Enough; no more:
'Tis not so sweet now as it was before.
O spirit of love! how quick and fresh art thou,
That, notwithstanding thy capacity
Receiveth as the sea, nought enters there,
Of what validity and pitch soe'er,
But falls into abatement and low price,
Even in a minute: so full of shapes is fancy
That it alone is high fantastical.
Deverell illustrates Act II, Scene iv, when Feste sings his song of love and death. The Duke says, Feste obliges with these lyrics:
Come away, come away, death,
And in sad cypress let me be laid;
Fly away, fly away breath;
I am slain by a fair cruel maid.
My shroud of white, stuck all with yew,
O, The love-sick Duke Orsino, pining for the Countess Olivia who shows no interest in him, uses music to assuage his grief; Twelfth Night opens with the Duke mooning over the power of music:
If music be the food of love, play on;
Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.
That strain again! it had a dying fall:
O, it came o'er my ear like the sweet sound,
That breathes upon a bank of violets,
Stealing and giving odour! Enough; no more:
'Tis not so sweet now as it was before.
O spirit of love! how quick and fresh art thou,
That, notwithstanding thy capacity
Receiveth as the sea, nought enters there,
Of what validity and pitch soe'er,
But falls into abatement and low price,
Even in a minute: so full of shapes is fancy
That it alone is high fantastical.

Deverell illustrates Act II, Scene iv, when Feste sings his song of love and death. The Duke says,

Give me some music. Now, good morrow, friends.
Now, good Cesario, but that piece of song,
That old and antique song we heard last night:
Methought it did relieve my passion much,
More than light airs and recollected terms
Of these most brisk and giddy-paced times:
Come, but one verse. . . .
O, fellow, come, the song we had last night.
Mark it, Cesario, it is old and plain;
The spinsters and the knitters in the sun
And the free maids that weave their thread with bones
Do use to chant it: it is silly sooth,
And dallies with the innocence of love,
Like the old age.

Feste obliges with these lyrics:

Come away, come away, death,
And in sad cypress let me be laid;
Fly away, fly away breath;
I am slain by a fair cruel maid.
My shroud of white, stuck all with yew,
O, prepare it!
My part of death, no one so true
Did share it.

Not a flower, not a flower sweet
On my black coffin let there be strown;
Not a friend, not a friend greet
My poor corpse, where my bones shall be thrown:
A thousand thousand sighs to save,
Lay me, O, where
Sad true lover never find my grave,
To weep there!

Although Deverell was never a recognized "member" of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, he was acquainted with them and claimed D. G. Rossetti as a friend. In this painting Deverell used himself as the model for the Duke Orsino; Elizabeth Siddal, later to marry Rossetti, posed as Viola/Cesario (on the left gazing with unrequited love at the Duke), and Rossetti became the model for Feste the Clown.

Ross Anderson points out a curious feature of the painting: the central figures sit with their backs to the sunlit outdoors, but the light appears to stream from the interior of the building, thus casting shadows in the wrong direction, towards the sunny garden. Deverell, typical of his Pre-Raphaelite associates, ignores academic conventions to achieve his own effects (Anderson 49).


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