The Mysterious Picture – Charles De Coster

The Mysterious Picture by Charles De Coster is the story of a smart, intelligent, cunning painter called Tyl who fooled the ruler and all his courtiers of a small country by not painting their portraits but making them all agree that the painting was excellent! Can you guess how?

Essential Words

  • Archduke – The ruler of a dukedom under a king.
  • Duchess – Wife of the Duke / Archduke.
  • Noble blood – A high class family.
  • Portrait – The painting of a single person.
  • Flanders – The Northern side of Belgium (its painters were famous in the past)
  • Court – The office of a king or Duke where all the officials sat to discuss the matters of the country (something like the modern Parliament).

The Mysterious Picture | Detailed Summary

Tyl once went to the palace of the Archduke of Battenburg. He talked to the Archduke in such a pleasing way that the Archduke appointed him as his court-painter. After a wonderful dinner the Archduke demanded that Tyl painted his portrait and Tyl agreed.

Before he commenced (started) the painting, the courtiers had threatened to kill him if he painted them with any signs of ageing or scars. Although he agreed to obey their instructions, Tyl was called by the Archduke to remind him that he was to paint each courtier as natural and exactly as possible. Now, Tyl realizes that would die if he agreed to the Archduke or the courtiers.

Tyl soon saw that he was not able to paint the portrait in any case. On one side, if he painted any of the courtiers as they looked, they would kill him and on the other, if he beautified any of them, the Archduke would kill him. He told that he would paint the Archduke with the Duches (the Duke’s wife) and all the courtiers around them.

The Mysterious Picture | Discussion

The story is very interesting and very simple. It is about how we manage to deal with a difficult situation with our smartness. Tyl was in a big trouble – he had to paint the Archduke and his courtiers without causing displeasure to anyone. It is easy for a skilled painter but Tyl’s case was different.

The comic aspect is how the Archduke and others were brought to admit that they all saw their portraits in the painting. There was no painting – the wall was as white as a fresh canvas but everyone said he saw his portrait with the others.

The story has certain similarities with the story of a king who wore no cloth on a fine day when he appeared in front of the people. The king had been convinced by a dress-designer that he wore a long dress that had magical powers. Only a child from the crowd shouted, “the king is naked.”

The Mysterious Picture by Charles De Coster | Questions & Answers

How does the author describe Tyl?

Tyl, the painter was a lean man who rode on a donkey. He wore attractive clothes, especially his cap with three bright feathers that swayed as he moved. Tyl knew how to please anyone with his words. He had an answer for any question because he was very confident and intelligent.

Why did the Captain allow Tyl to go in?

Tyl informed the Captain that he was a painter from Flanders. Because the Captain knew that Flemish painters and their pictures were in great demand all over Europe, he allowed Tyl to meet the Archduke.

How did Tyl get appointed as his court-painter by the Archduke?

Tyl was as good at speaking as with painting. When he was presented to the Archduke, he saluted him three times and stood before him with his head bowed. He spoke with exceeding politeness, each time praising the Archduke. The Duke was highly impressed by Tyl’s behavior and appointed him as his court-painter.

The Mysterious Picture | Character Sketches

The Archduke

The Archduke is a lover of art but is not very smart. He was easily moved by Tyl’s pleasing words yet he has enough sense to read the painter’s mind to an extent. He was quite reckless which is evidenced by his rewarding the painter much before the painting was completed. This hospitable and patient ruler was also a perfectionist. He controlled his impatience for the sake of perfection and allowed a number of excuses when each time Tyl violated the deadlines. On the downside, the Archduke is a silent terror as we see him threatening Tyl against any imperfection in the painting.

The Mysterious Picture by Charles De Coster | Conversations

Imagine you are the Archduke. Write down three exchanges with Mary, the Duchess, on the following words spoken by Tyl: “May, your Highness pardon me for my rashness in thinking that one of my paintings will please your Highness.”

  1. The Archduke: “Mary, I have never seen such a polite man among artists. Usually artists are too proud.
  2. The Duchess: What did he say? Probably he praised you overtly!
  3. The Archduke: Not a bit! He thought is was rash of him to hope that his painting would please me.
  4. The Duchess: I think he knows the art of speaking, too. Please beware so that you will not be fooled by this fellow. Remember how a dressmaker had fooled your father.
  5. The Archduke: I don’t think so yet I will see to that. He is going to paint all of us from tomorrow.
  6. The Duchess: I believe that you have ordered him to hide this scar on my cheek.

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The Mysterious Picture by Charles De Coster | Letter

As one of the courtiers, write a letter to your friend about Tyl’s dealing with a difficult situation in the court.

12th June, 1889

Dear Albert,

I hope you are back from France. My apologies for not writing to you for the last three months. I was, as always, very much engaged with the building of a new prison section in the underground of the palace.

You have always asked me to tell something worth reading so I have got a piece of real incident that really happened in the palace yesterday. In fact it was about a painter from Flanders, you know, from the North. I don’t know if this fellow is really a painter but he was an excellent piece that the Creator has ever made. I mean, he simply fooled all of us and vanished, our fury and laughter not yet abated.

This man, having pleased the Archduke and everyone of us, agreed to paint a group painting with the Duke and Duches in the centre. Many of us had threatened him to paint our portraits as good as he could, you know what I mean – concealing the patches and ageing. He took two month’s time and announced that the painting was ready. Before viewing the huge painting that was supposed to be on the wall of a hall, he had warned us that those among us who were not with pure noble blood would not see the painting. I myself saw nothing on the wall and was about to tell him that I could not find me in the painting but I saw the danger. If I said I could not see the painting everyone would look down at me and I would probably go into jail. Like everyone else did, I too exclaimed that it was a magnificent painting. What was more, the Archduke and his Duchess praised this rat.

Wait for him, he will visit your palace one day.

Yours sincerely,
Murdok.

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  • “Write it yourself” Questions (Exam)

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The Mysterious Picture - Charles De Coster

1
Summary
2
Tyl, the Main Character
3
The Arch Duke
4
Conversations
5
Letter Writing
6
Questions and Answers
7
Worksheet 1
8
Worksheet 2
9
Worksheet 3
10
Worksheet 4
11
Worksheet 5

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The Mysterious Picture – Charles De Coster
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