I saw this image last night, very late last night and it almost broke my heart.


It was like a wave that rose and then receded. It felt so insecure, so vulnerable for a moment and then I had hope again.

Each time I see this picture (I have seen it a lot of times since last night), I see the same see-saw of feelings, of thoughts. The same contrasted darkness and light. Chiaroscuro.

I saw the lady, innocent as innocence, as innocent as I am (are we all not innocent to our own hearts? except when we are guilty), it was her face and her hands that did it. I saw that she was uncomfortable, leaning on her knees, led by a man. Her hands were searching for some support and that support was about to be the executioner’s block. She was being led by a man. To the block.

It felt as if innocence is killed in the same way. Everyday. It felt that I could be done away with and there would be nothing that I could do. For my eyes would be blindfolded and my hands would be searching for support. And there would be a menacing axe glinting in the darkness, waiting for me to rest my head. And there would be an executioner with a hard on, getting ready for the release.

But the lady was so white and pure and innocent. Maybe the man wasn’t so bad. Maybe he’d come to rescue her. Maybe he’d held the executioner back and was lifting her up. Picking her up from the wooden block as her maids wept with relief. There were people weeping for her. Innocence is so pure and white in this dark dark place that all that can be done, should be done to save it. Maybe there was hope.

And so, I saw the painting. The see-saw. I saw the finely balanced moment that was captured. The point exactly midway between life and tragedy. Where you’ve still not left hope, but, you know that you may. Where all is not lost, but may soon be. Where there be light or the dark, but, you can’t tell yet.

A perfectly captured moment. Full of contradiction, full of drama, full of emotion. I wish I could see the original, a 17″ monitor cannot do justice to this.

A friend had shared this painting with me last night. At first, in its thumbnail, it was just an image to me, but, the moment I shut down the other windows, did a full screen preview of this image, my heart broke. Almost broke. The image suddenly became a painting for me. Indicating several painful years of hard labor, brush stroke by brush stroke, in pursuit of that singular moment. I am told (by the same friend) that this, in reality, is a very large painting. I am also told that if you stand before the actual one, it moves you to droplets of chiaroscuro in your eyes…


1. ouch! the spelling! ‘chiaroscuro’ not ‘ciaroscuro’. Thank you Atul!

2. The painting in discussion is: The execution of Lady Jane Grey by the french (romantic) painter Paul Delaroche. It depicts the execution of a girl who was queen for just nine days.

A lot of people just talk of the historical inaccuracy of this painting. The real execution took place in public, with officials watching and so on. The 17 year old girl was beheaded in full public view. I feel repulsed thinking of such a moment. I say that the painter made the moment almost human. The privacy of the chamber gave the moment an intimacy with the subject and saved the viewer from the repulsive horror that was reality.

Although I am completely unqualified to comment on Paul Delaroche’s work. I feel that this has been a theme across all his major works. To show a moment of emotion and drama, a moment that was known history and hence real once, a moment that the common man’s eye could not have witnessed otherwise. Be it the uncertain fate of the two children in the tower, or the death of Elizabeth 1 or Napolean before he gave up. He is best known for a 27 meter long mural of the Hémicycle d’Honneur at École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts. I am awed – reverence and respect and wonder and dread – by his work.

Am yet unsure why The execution of Lady Jane Grey haunts me the most, is it the lady, is it the white or perhaps it is hidden in the dark.