For today’s Art for the Month of June entry I’m taking my first-ever request, courtesy of Jola. Rather than selecting all these works by myself, which I admit gets a little monotonous after awhile, it’s refreshing to have another set of eyes provide me with a piece for discussion.
As some necessary background for this work, Barbara Radziwillowna was Queen of Poland and Grand Duchess of Lithuania as consort to Sigismund II Augustus, from December 7th 1550 until her death on May 8th 1551. Her marriage to Sigismund II and subsequent rise to power was controversial among the noble court, and it’s alleged that Sigismund II’s own mother, Bona Sforza, poisoned her daughter-in-law’s wine, thus causing her death, though this was never officially proven. It’s an intriguing story which has since been the subject of a numerous literary works, paintings and films.
Józef Simmler’s Death of Barbara Radziwillowna doesn’t ponder the alleged poisoning but rather focuses on the intimate scene of the King suffering the loss of his beloved wife. One will observe the thurible at the foot of the bed, the Bible on the chair and the crucifix seen faintly in the background over the King’s head, all of which obviously represent the couple’s Christian faith. I would like to believe the crucifix serves the dual purpose of also symbolizing the King’s own personal sacrifice, but perhaps I’m overreaching. His body language, the way his hands are crossed as he levers himself over his knee, as well as his solemn expression and furrowed brow, all serve to indicate his mournful state. Despite the various luxuries and adornments which occupy the scene—many of which would not be unfamiliar outside royal life—Sigismund II has lost something which neither his wealth or noble position can be reacquire.
As for Barbara, she is rendered in such a way that effectively conveys her untimely passing. The bed curtain is opened just enough to allow the outside light to fall down upon her features, furthering dramatizing her departure into the afterlife. Overall there’s no evidence of distress, so perhaps she passed away peacefully. Her skin is a sickly pale, a shade which still manages to stand out against the white bed sheets, but regardless, as testament to her beauty, a strand of her hair is seen laying over the side of her pillow. And I can’t go on without noting her arm, draped lifelessly off the side of the bed. Further down you’ll see her hand positioned outward to her husband, whose own hands are crossed together, creating a juxtaposition which to me signifies their unfortunate separation.
On a lighter note, I love the details throughout the scene, including a wood designs on the bed frame, the delicate work on the thurible and the floral patterns on the curtains.