Let Everything Happen To You…

DelarocheLadyJaneGreyLady Jane Grey by Paul Delaroche


“Let everything happen to you

Beauty and terror

Just keep going

No feeling is final”

― Rainer Maria Rilke


One of my favourite paintings and one of my favourite quotes. I have coupled them together because for me they are one and the same.

As a child I was dragged through countless museums. Hours and hours of trudging silently through enormous room after room, staring at painting after painting. Taking everything in, yet… too much sometimes becomes nothing at all.

This painting hangs in the National Gallery in London. When I first saw it… a painting had never come so alive before my gaze. I immediately felt a connection with the subject, with the emotion, with the scene, with everything… I was her, she was me. When I heard her story, the tale behind the image… I didn’t need to be told what it was, I already knew.

This painting, every time I see it, always stirs up within me what it stirred then… there is a connection… there will always be a connection… a message… a meaning… a hand of feeling stretched across time reaching out from human to human about the experience of being human and all it entails.

When I first read these words by Rilke… the same connection I had with the painting happened with the words. They were not just words but so much more. A voice echoing across years speaking from one human and entering the ears of another who for a moment was listening and was moved by what they understood.


  1. When I looked at it, my first reaction was to literally physically turn away from it. Just horrendous. It gave me a bad feeling & vibe.
    I returned to look some more and what I see is—- futile injustice.
    The females seem like they have fought all they could and have been brought to their knees and to resistance. I somehow feel they have not completely submitted those it appears that they have. The arrogant males are at at advantage in that they hold weapons and they display entitlement & self confidence in their actions.
    Its interesting that the male leaning over is hold the female in a gentle manner instead of a hostile one. Is this part of his manipulative technique? Is it part of his view that he is entitled to hold her this way for some reason?

    Also the women on the left appear to be older as if they’ve they’ve had to endure much more of this abusive dynamic for longer.The light seems to shine the focus of this piece on the middle female & her youth stating that she is newly becoming inducted into this unjust situation.

    Its not clear what the exact unjust situation is – one might guess male dominance/ superiority?

    The blindfold is also interesting- it does match her dress- all white ( symbolizing innocence) so it leads me to believe it did belong to her as a head wrap and they pulled it right down over her eyes ( literally &figuratively)

    What attracts you to this, Ursula? What do you see?


    • Interesting view. I have never seen it from that perspective. I don’t tend to think of gender and gender issues when I look at humans, so when I look at this painting I don’t see males and females, I see humans.

      Thinking about it from that perspective, I would say that the situation is actually not about male dominance, it is more about female dominance. It’s the execution of Lady Jane Grey, she was queen for 9 days during the Tudor period, and she was considered to be quite a formidable character who made a huge impression in the short time that she lived. She was sentenced to death for treason by Queen Mary I, who was also quite formidable.

      The artist was depicting this scene:

      “The executioner asked her forgiveness, which she granted him, pleading: “I pray you dispatch me quickly.” Referring to her head, she asked, “Will you take it off before I lay me down?”, and the axeman answered: “No, madam.” She then blindfolded herself. Jane then failed to find the block with her hands, and cried, “What shall I do? Where is it?” Probably Sir Thomas Brydges, the Deputy Lieutenant of the Tower, helped her find her way.” – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lady_Jane_Grey

      For me this piece depicts grace under pressure, strength and an intense beauty of humanness no matter the circumstances. When I see this image I always feel very calm.

      I also love the composition of the painting, and all the elements used, especially the way the white dress is painted, and the lighting.

      It’s always fascinating how many different ways one painting can been seen by different people, it reveals us. That is one of the great gifts of art!


  2. That is very interesting…..
    Now that i know the story I can see it that way. Art is so cool cause each person can it see it from their own perspective. The gender issues seemed to speak to me first when I did not know the intended story. My educational background includes Womans Studies, which i studied extensively so I do tend to view many things from that perspective . I love the white dress too –but I still d not care for the painting as it makes me feel bad for some reason. It is great art, just not a painting that I would want .



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