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Current time:0:00Total duration:4:30

Video transcript

the 18th century the age of enlightenment was the time when rationalism was all-important but the light of the rational mind is sometimes not enough well we certainly see a reaction against the rationalism and the scientific approach of the Enlightenment in the movement we call Romanticism in the modern world we found ways of thinking about the world of the dream the world of the unconscious but in the 18th century this gave rise to an interest in the supernatural and Henri fusilli a Swiss born artist who worked largely in England was known for painting the sublime and the supernatural he was interested in reconstructing history painting in developing a kind of history painting that was based on literary themes and that it would allow for fantasy and of course the works of Shakespeare a perfect for that plays like a midsummer night's dream which features the king and queen of the fairies Oberon and titania are perfect for visualizing the supernatural and that's what we see here in Fuseli's painting titania and bottom from 1790 this is a big painting it's the scale of a history painting it's a scale of a painting by say jacque lui dahveed but this is a painting that is all fantasy it is and in it we see titania the queen of the fairies who looks like she's having a lot of fun and she's instructing her fairy counterparts to obey all the wishes of one of the characters in the play of Midsummer Night's Dream bottom whose head has been magically transformed into the head of a donkey ok hold on this is already impossible to follow let's see if I can get this straight we have the queen of the fairies who is in love with this character whose name is bottom whose head has been turned into a donkey who is here instructing all of her fairies to do his bidding exactly except that she's fallen in love with bottom because of his misplaced magical spell of course so what we're seeing here is utter fabrication utter invention utter theatricality and in fact it really does look as though we're looking at a stage and a performance is being enacted for us all of the figures face in our direction the light is theatrical and the artist is clearly not interested in giving us too much information he's allowing for a tremendous amount of the canvas to be dark titania the queen of the fairies is a really beautiful idealized nude but she looks very mischievous actually there's a lot of mischievous looks throughout this painting but she especially looks mischievous as does the fairy who's standing on the right who notice is holding onto a kind of leash with a small old man of a long beard there are lots of vignettes that surround the central to figures of titania and bottom some of the creepiest passages I think are in the foreground close to us for instance on the lower left we have doll-like figures and the one on the bottom the top of her head seems to be part of a butterfly she seems to be shushing something perhaps us on the right you see a hooded figure it's holding in its hands another small figure that's looking directly out at us rather menacingly but it looks like its body has not quite been formed right and our historians have identified that figure as a changeling so here you see this interest in exploring the shadow the irrational a kind of a cult the dream and I find this interesting because I see a continuous thread from this sort of painting into the 19th and 20th centuries I think for instance of surrealism think of the work of Dali think of the exploration of the unconscious there and the Victorians throughout the 19th century were fascinated by fairies and there's a whole genre of Victorian fairy painting so here's fantasy that is unnerving but Shakespeare brings us back Shakespeare tells us not to worry not to be too fearful of the fantasy that he's creating for us at the end of a Midsummer Night's Dream puck one of the primary characters in the play says to the audience if we shadows have offended think but this and all is mended that you have but slumber'd here while these vision did appear