With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, I thought a post about love and its depiction in art was in order. In this case, a story of unrequited love. The tale of Lancelot and Elaine from the Arthurian Legends has been the inspiration for numerous paintings and illustrations. According to the tale, Lancelot leaves Camelot in disguise and comes upon the tower of Astolat. He is taken in by the lord, his two sons, and his daughter Elaine. He decides to enter a grand tournament in his disguise and to further the deception, agrees to wear the favor of Elaine, a red sleeve of hers embroidered with pearls, on his helmet.
At the tournament Lancelot is injured and is nursed back to health by Elaine during which time she falls in love with him. She takes it upon herself to embroider him a case for his shield imagining all the adventures and battles that have made their mark upon its surface. When Lancelot’s injuries have healed, she declares her love for him but he rejects her as his heart is already given to Guinevere.
At the time of his departure, he never glances back at her hoping to quickly dispell her passion, but she falls in to despair and dies of a broken heart. ‘Love, art thou sweet? Then bitter death must be: Love, thou art bitter; sweet is death to me. O Love, if death be sweeter, let me die.’ Her last wish is to have her body taken in a barge upstream to Camelot where all may gaze upon her and know her story.