Somehow I missed the room where Lady Jane Grey was executed when I was touring the Tower of London last summer. I’m wondering if the preservation of the old dusty space could have relived the tragic death of the Nine Days Queen any more than the life-sized painting of Paul Delaroche in the middle of the National Gallery. As soon as I set my eyes upon the painting that takes about almost a third of the entire wall, I felt as if the actual event was happening in front of my eyes. It simply takes the breathe away of anyone who have some ways heard of the sad story behind it. Lady Jane Grey, after reigned as the Queen of England for only nine days, was accused of treason and later beheaded by Mary Tudor who was rebelled by her father. Mary once spared her life out of sympathy for her intelligence and temperament, but Jane’s power-hungry family finally drove her to death. She was only seventeen.
The French painter Delaroche invites the viewers into that specific historical moment to share the emotional response to the event. Every feature of the painting appeals the injustice of her execution. The dazzling whiteness of her scaffold and dress contrasts to the dark room as to implore her innocence. The grief-stricken maids on the left and the sympathizing executioner on the right share the emotional burden of witnessing the most unnatural death of the noble and intelligent young woman. Without being aware of it, the viewer also becomes another witness to the tragic event that was about to take place. As I was standing in the central hall of the National Gallery, I felt as if I was transported through time into the cold and grave room where Jane Grey was being executed. As long as it could make the viewer live in the history, the painting becomes more than just a painting.