Rhiannyn I
Artist Katarin Maela
Subject Rhiannyn I Aderyn
Commissioned 13 January 1121
Painting Commenced 3 February 1121 (first)

17 March 1121 (second)

2 April 1121 (third)

Painting Completed 17 May 1121

The Rhiannyne Gaze was a famous painting of Rhiannyn I Aderyn commissioned in the final months of the first Celtic queen's life. Originally commissioned to do a full-body portrait of Rhiannyn I, artist Katarin Maela was forced to leave the first portrait of Rhiannyn unfinished as the queen's respiratory troubles began to exaggerate further ailments (notably an injury from Rhiannyn having been unhorsed in the war against Rome in 1108), forcing the queen to be seated during her sessions with Maela.

The second (seated) portrait was also left unfinished as Maela began to feel that the second painting was "undignified" and thus unsuitable for someone of Rhiannyn's status, leading to the famous facial portrait of Rhiannyn that, originally known simply as the Portrait of Rhiannyn I, would become known as the Rhiannyne Gaze in future generations.

The Rhiannyne Gaze became the definitive portrait of Rhiannyn I because, as one art critic put it, "no other portrait so definitively captured the spirit of Celtica's first queen - from the exhaustion clearly evident in her white hair, its slow turn toward wisps from battling 12 years of infighting in Celtica along with months of illness; to the relief one can see in her eyes that her dreams of a united Celtica are finally coming to pass."

Background Edit

Lack of a full-body portrait Edit

Rhiannyn I, in her years as queen of Celtica, was only rarely presented opportunities when it could have become possible to paint a portrait of her - in fact, as 1120 approached, the queen grew famous for not having a single full-body portrait ever painted. Many wondered what would be left of the Great Queen upon her death beyond the few portraits of her which predated her ascension of the throne of Celtica in January 1109.

The queen herself was somewhat apprehensive about taking the time for a portrait to be painted - she wanted to make sure any painting could capture her spirit, but felt that she would not be able to divert attention from more pressing matters, such as the growing aggression of the Netherlands, for long enough to do so. In addition, the queen's face was still showing signs of the nerve damage she suffered from an illness in 1106 (at times, part of the right side of her face would either freeze or droop); she felt that presenting signs of illness would weaken her image or the impact of the painting.

In December 1120, the queen's Advisory began to convince Rhiannyn that a portrait would be necessary to satisfy the scores of people who were looking for iconography of the Great Queen, and she was finally convinced by her elder daughter Kateira to have a portrait painted while the Advisory was in holiday recess. Upon its reconvention, the Advisory immediately called for a convention to "seek a qualified artist for the commissioning of a portrait of Her Serenity the Queen at the earliest possible convenience" on 7 January 1121.

Katarin Maela Edit

Immediately, the convention was swayed, at Rhiannyn I's urging, toward Katarin Maela, then a 43-year-old artist who was teaching both of Rhiannyn's daughters to paint. Maela had previously done a painting of Kateira for Rhiannyn, which the queen considered "[her] most treasured possession." Maela soon became the most-considered candidate for the convention, which officially commissioned her on 14 January.

For her part, Maela was paid 50 litavisi for taking the commission plus one litavis per day she worked on the painting. Immediately getting to work, Maela began working with Rhiannyn on finding an appropriate setting on 14 January. By the end of January, the scene of Rhiannyn's portrait and the dress Rhiannyn would wear had been chosen, and work began in earnest on 3 February.

The first portrait Edit

Initial progress Edit

As painting began in early February, Rhiannyn, though starting to show signs of the illness that would ultimately kill her five months later, was initially available for several hours, which Maela used to the best of her ability, hoping to finish the portrait by mid-March. As war with the Netherlands became a distinct possibility in mid-February, Rhiannyn's time rapidly became shorter, much to the chagrin of Maela and others.

In mid-February, Rhiannyn's body was roughly half-completed, but bar slight touches to the scenery, the portrait was still very much unfinished on 20 February. Maela expressed her frustration with the lack of time for painting to the Advisory, which went into recess - having no truly pressing issues at the time - for five days, allowing Rhiannyn to stay and work with Maela.

Rhiannyn's illness Edit

By the end of the five-day recess on 25 February, a "significant amount of progress" had been made on the portrait, but it became impossible to deny that Rhiannyn's health was failing by the end of February. The queen began to suffer from severe pain, to the point where she was barely able to stand on 24 February. This was the first stage of Rhiannyn's declining health - the queen seemed to recover, to an extent, in late April and early May only for her health to totally collapse in June. It is believed that the queen's developing laryngitis and pneumonia led to severe coughing spells, which aggravated an injury from the Roman War, in which Rhiannyn was unhorsed at the penultimate Battle of Cornwall in 1108.

Maela's time with Rhiannyn was frustrated by the queen's declining health, and, by 27 February, she was forced to admit "I will get nowhere with this standing portrait. The queen barely has the strength in her to keep standing, and when she does, she is hardly able to stand still, being so often wracked by agonizing pain." As such, on 1 March, Maela abandoned the standing full-body portrait for Rhiannyn, and began to consider alternatives.

The second portrait Edit

New pose for the ailing queen Edit

As early March began in Celtica, tensions with the Netherlands flared, and the increasingly frail Rhiannyn was forced to head to Amsterdam for negotiations, thus delaying the portrait of Rhiannyn even more, in the face of an increasingly concerned Celtic people. However, the break in painting allowed Maela to devise an alternative plan for the painting of Rhiannyn. A seated portrait would, in Maela's opinion, still allow the Queen's full visage to be portrayed whilst showing a softer side to her (and also compensating for her declining health). When Rhiannyn returned on 17 March, painting continued in earnest, with the Advisory and her husband Cameron assuming many governmental duties to both ease the workload on the ailing Queen and (unintentionally) allow time for the painting to complete.

"The painting is undignified" Edit

However, Maela soon encountered yet another roadblock - the painting was moving increasingly away from the people's vision of Rhiannyn. She had never been painted sitting - even prior to her reign as Queen of Celtica - and had always carried an aura of strength around her, which Maela believed was sacrificed in the sitting portrait. It also served as a conceit to Rhiannyn's failing health, which would likely not be appreciated by the people as an icon of the Queen. She conceded that "the painting is undignified - we cannot portray Rhiannyn in this weak of a state" to the Advisory on 23 March, which, although concerned that a painting would not be finished before Rhiannyn's death, relented and allowed Maela to begin searching for a third portrait design.

Soul-searching for a true portrait Edit

The lack of a successful portrait design dismayed both Maela and Rhiannyn, and the two began corresponding with each other (when Rhiannyn was fit to speak - increasingly, she grew hoarse through the end of March) on the future course of her portrait. They both agreed that one with Rhiannyn leaning upon a wall would not portray her adequately, though one with her hand against a pillar was considered briefly. The lack of full-body portraits led them to continue searching for such an option until 27 March.

The third portrait Edit

Maela's 'facial portrait' Edit

After the full-body options had been explored, and each rejected, Rhiannyn and Maela turned to half-body portraits, though the solution to the problem of not giving away Rhiannyn's frail state remained elusive. A breakthrough came on 1 April, however, when Maela conceived the idea of a solely "facial portrait". She justified this to the Advisory by stating "Rhiannyn's being - her entire personality - can be captured through just her face. We don't need a fancy dress to do that." The Advisory relented later that day, and painting of the third portrait began on 2 April.

Completion Edit


Reactions Edit

Iconographic reception Edit


Artistic reception Edit