Turner painted Dido founding Carthage using a golden palette which has influenced me in this image, she was also painted by Guercino in a very theatrical setting, Rubens and others. However, I was more inspired by music: Purcell’s “Dido and Aeneas” and Dido’s mournful lament “When I am laid in earth”. Berlioz also composed a magnificent tragic opera “Les Troyens”, his very own labour of love that nearly bankrupted him through its ambitiousness, it was chopped about and mutilated; he never saw it performed in its entirety. Purcell who died young at 35, never saw his Dido performed profesionally in a theatre either. Apparently he caught a chill when his wife refused to open the door after a night on the tiles. A tragic loss to English music.
My model Lucia, from Rome, I met when she came into my gallery just for a look around while killing time before meeting her husband at the train station. She was intrigued by the exotic possibilities of the story, an African Queen, surrounded by her departed lover’s possessions, the silks and jewels, the purple and gold – she felt all this was in keeping with her Mediterranean personality and looks. She was touched too by the pathos of the story, and the loveliness of the music which she had never heard before. In common with most of the models, Lucia brought several objects with her to the set, the candles, the bronze bowl, incense burners.
The photograph was shot on a Mediterranean beach near Argentario on a cloudless evening. Lucia holds my late Father’s naval sword, the ship on the horizon is the aircraft carrier HMS Eagle, my Father’s address on my birth certificate.
More I would, but death invades me.
Death is now a welcome guest.
When I am laid in earth, may my wrongs create
No trouble in thy breast.
Remember me, but ah! forget my fate.
(Purcell / Tate)
Afterword. In 2011 a female psychologist from Austria saw this picture when she was thumbing through my book and without even looking at the text she said, “This is your father picture, a picture about remorse”. I was astonished. Apparently it’s the sun, the fact that it is a setting sun, and other small details which I unfortunately no longer remember.
Technical Notes. Canon 5D. A stitched panorama of two shots – the join is around her left hand. The aircraft carrier HMS Eagle on the horizon I found on the internet and added later.