Recreated here in this beautiful painting is the moment when Elaine guards Launcelot’s armour and:
‘made a pretty history to herself
Of every dint a sword had beaten in it,
And every scratch a lance had made upon it,
Conjecturing when and where: this cut is fresh;
That ten years back; this dealt him at Caerlyle;
That at Caerleon; this at Camelot:
And ah God’s mercy, what a stroke was there!
And here a thrust that might have kill’d, but God
Broke the strong lance, and roll’d his enemy down,
And saved him: so she lived in fantasy’
(Alfred Tennyson, Idylls of the King: Lancelot and Elaine (London: Penguin Classics), 1983)
The artist has cleverly conjured up Elaine’s pensive and longing look as she gazes at Lancelot’s armour.
In the story, each year a tournament was planned by King Arthur and the winner would receive one of nine diamonds that Arthur had acquired during his reign. Each year, the winner was Launcelot and he was saving all the jewels to give to his Queen and lover Guinevere. The Queen however berated him for providing additional gossip about them to the court and came up with a plan for Launcelot to participate in the joust in disguise. She stated that if Arthur found out he would be delighted by this tale. Launcelot set out for the tournament and on the way to Camelot Castle, Arthur’s seat, stopped by the castle of Astolat, where Lord Astolat, his sons and his beautiful daughter Elaine lived. Elaine, enraptured by the handsome knight and his stories, soon fell in love with him. The next morning, Lancelot borrowed an old shield and left his own in Elaine’s care in order to complete his disguise. Lancelot left for Camelot in the company of Sir Lavaine. Meanwhile, Elaine stayed at Astolat, watching over the shield and daydreaming about the man she loved.