Portraits of fictional characters

There are fictional characters who have had a profound impact on our world. Some may really have lived, but their traits and abilities have been magnified or added to over time. Artists have given them faces based on their own fantasies.

Very often, the characters are drawn from literature, history and poetry. For example: in the Middle Ages, the book “The Golden Legends” by Jacobus de Voragine. When printing was invented in the 1450s, editions appeared quickly, not only in Latin, but also in almost every major European language. It dealt with the stories and miracles of saints. Many of these stories, which many knew and could understand, inspired artists.

Axeli Gallen Kallela: Kullervo´s curse

The text below is an excerpt taken from Wikipedia.

Kullervo is an ill-fated character in the Kalevala, the Finnish national epic compiled by Elias Lønnrot.

Kullervo is raised in isolation because of his status as a slave, his fierce temper, and because people fear his growing magical skills. The only memento that the boy retains from his previous life in a loving family is an old knife that had been passed along to him as an infant.

The wife of Ilmarinen enjoys tormenting the slave boy, now a youth, and sends Kullervo out to herd her cows with a loaf of bread with stones baked into it.

Kullervo sits down to eat, but his beloved heirloom knife breaks on one of the stones in the bread. Kullervo is overwhelmed with rage. He drives the cows away to the fields, then summons up bears and wolves from the woods, making them appear like cows instead. He herds these to Ilmarinen’s house and tells the wicked mistress of the house to milk them, upon which they turn back into wolves and bears and maul her. As she lies there bleeding, she invokes the high god Ukko to kill Kullervo with a magic arrow, but Kullervo prays for the spell to kill her instead, for her wickedness, which it indeed does.

Then the aged Väinämöinen,
When he heard that he had perished,
And that Kullervo had fallen,
Spoke his mind in words that follow:
“Never, people, in the future,
Rear a child in crooked fashion,
Rocking them in stupid fashion,
Soothing them to sleep like strangers.
Children reared in crooked fashion,
Boys thus rocked in stupid fashion,
Grow not up with understanding,
Nor attain to man’s discretion,
Though they live till they are aged,
And in body well-developed.”

“Kullervo” from Kalevala, [1]

Translation by William Forsell Kirby[


Marinus van Reymerswaele: Saint Jerome in his Study

This painting caught my interest because of its strange character,  a saint Jerome who was different from the others I had seen. Beautifully painted, with the open Bible with illustration and text, all the papers, the skull, and  the alive but almost fanatical expression of the person. Reymerswaele painted after a model, and made other paintings of saint Jerome too. For me, this version is the finest.

Saint Jerome is the patron saint of librarians, scholars and translators. He was known as a Scripture scholar, translating most of the Old Testament from the Hebrew.

Excerpt from wikipedia: “From his thirty-first to his thirty-fifth year he had for food six  ounces of barley bread, and vegetables slightly cooked without oil. But finding that his eyes were growing dim, and that his whole body was shrivelled with an eruption and a sort of stony roughness  he added oil to his former food, and up to the sixty-third year of his life followed this temperate course, tasting neither fruit nor pulse, nor anything whatsoever besides.”

Really an ascetic, and the painting tells it.