In this series of articles, international artist Ana Tzarev explores the history of love as depicted through art. The second installment focuses on the idea of tragic love.
Ana’s Thought: “The Artist participates in life and lets it permeate through him, in feelings of love, beauty, sorrow, song, and laughter—which he collects like pearls and carefully arranges on canvas, creating his vibrant, passionate, and unique Masterpiece.”
So many of our greatest love stories take root in the depths of tragedy. They linger in our hearts long after the eye has moved on. With each retelling, our hope swells despite what we know shall come. We pine for resolution. Through their soaring joys and crushing lows—the universal extremes of love—we are called to return to tales of tragedy again and again.
Orpheus and Eurydice knew true, unceasing love—their feelings for one another were so sound that not even death could divide them. The bliss they shared in marriage was cut short by a snake’s venom. Heartbroken, widowed Orpheus played his lyre with such moving melancholy that the gods themselves were stirred, blessing him with the chance to reunite with his beloved. He was allowed to retrieve her under the condition that he guided her out of the afterlife without gazing upon her until they returned to the mortal world. In his delight, he turned to her too soon, banishing her back into the abyss forever. Their tragic tale was touched with brightness: when Orpheus’s life ended, his spirit was finally reunited with that of his ever-patient wife.
The doleful crossing of Cleopatra and Mark Antony has been immortalized in word, image, and song, most notably by Shakespeare. Twisted up in political turmoil and jealousy, their passionate love affair seemed to be cursed from the start. Neither Cleopatra’s grace and beauty nor Mark Antony’s power and prowess could grant them security in the face of war: when it became clear that all hope for victory had fled, Antony committed suicide, dying in the arms of his lover. Cleopatra soon followed suit, poisoning herself with an asp. The legacy of their ill-fated romance has lived on for centuries among the greatest legends.
One of the most masterful works of architecture in history was a tribute to lost love. The great Indian ruler Shah Jahan had the glorious Taj Mahal built to honour the memory of his treasured wife, Empress Mumtaz Mahal, as he was inconsolable upon her passing from this world. Its shining marble houses ornate halls of stone, an everlasting memorial for the woman who was his closest confidante and political advisor. They were laid side by side in a secluded crypt, forever a part of this gift to lovers and travelers the world over.
In my Dispossessed series, I painted several images of two lovers separated by fearsome tangles of barbed wire. Despite their inability to be together, their love blooms—the stars shining in a barren desert. In one of these paintings, Long Wait, the woman stands with her back to the viewer, her vision sifting through the waves of sand for the shape of her beloved. I wish for the viewer to share the strength of her hope, undaunted in the face of doubt.
Tragedy teaches us that when you are in possession of something beautiful—the rare and exquisite gift of true love—you must do all that you can to protect it. All things blossom and all things wither: it is the way of existence, and no living thing is free of its ravages. While love’s petals are still fragrant, savor all its sweetness—it is the most magnificent feeling your heart shall ever know.