Reading a Letter by Alfredo Cristiano Keil - 1874 - - Museu Nacional de Arte Contemporânea, Chiado Reading a Letter by Alfredo Cristiano Keil - 1874 - - Museu Nacional de Arte Contemporânea, Chiado

Reading a Letter

oil on canvas • -
  • Alfredo Cristiano Keil - 3 July 1850 - 4 October 1907 Alfredo Cristiano Keil 1874

Some things are just larger than life. In a way, everything we do will somewhat affect others and endure through time; like ever-larger ripples on a pond, every decision we make will spread and touch others. But some of these deeds assume proportions that gain a life of their own. With most of them, we have no idea of the magnitude they will assume. 

In 1848, a young German couple decided to move to Portugal and were married there. In Lisbon on July 3 1850, their son Alfredo Cristiano Keil was born. Soon he developed a keen artistic spirit and decided to study music and painting at Nuremberg University. The actions of politicians and soldiers in Nuremberg caused him to return to Portugal, where he escaped the Franco-Prussian War (1870). 

He brought from Germany to Lisbon a Romantic spirit. Romanticism was a well-established movement in Europe but was yet to have its impact in Portugal. He primarily painted landscapes, but I find this painting to carry a special ambience. The two girls read, in complete suspense, a letter. We are left to guess what it might say. I believe that if Alfredo Keil had received a letter from the future, revealing the impact that an action of his own would later have, he would have been as fascinated as these girls are. 

Last week, the elected Portuguese president took office. (Curiously, the president was a law teacher at my old university.) As protocol instructs, everyone attending the ceremony enjoyed a piece by today’s artist: Remember that Alfredo also studied music? He was in fact mostly known for his musical works, especially after composing “A Portuguesa,” a powerful musical ultimatum that would become forbidden during the monarchy. As a result of a revolution, Portugal became a republic — and “A Portuguesa” became the national anthem we still sing today. 

All actions matter, and we are held responsible for all we do. This responsibility is even greater when a country delegates the power to rule its people by choosing and allowing one among equals to rule. Big nations have fallen to disgrace and radicalism after failing to choose the right leader. 

Remember: You are that little rock hitting the big pond, and the waves of your presence will echo to eternity, affecting all others. 

Artur Deus Dionisio