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Studying for a test? Prepare with these 6 lessons on Romanticism.
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The 18th century, the age of enlightenment was the time when rationalism was all important and the light of the rational mind is sometimes not enough. We certainly see a reaction against the rationalism and scientific approach of the enlightenment in the movement we call Romanticism In the modern world we've found ways of thinking about dreams and the the world of the unconcious and in the 18th century this gave rise to an interest in the supernatural. And Henry Fuseli a swiss born artist who worked largely in England was known for painting the Sublime and the Supernatural He was interested in reconstructing History Paintings in developing a kind of History painting that was based on literary themes that would allow for fantasy. And of course the works of Shakespeare are 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 visualising 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 the scale of a painting by Jacques Louis David. but this is a painting that is all fantasy. It is and in it we see Titania, the Queen of the Fairies, who looks as if she's having a lot of fun, and she's instructing her fairy counterparts to obey all the wishes of one of the characters of the play A Midsummer NIght's Dream, called Bottom. whose head has magically transformed into the head of a donkey. 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 that of 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 a 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 if we're looking at a stage and a performance is being enacted for us all of the figures face in our direction. The lighting 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, idealised nude, but she looks very mischievous. Actually, there are a lot of mischievous looks throughout this painting but she, especially, looks mischievous. as does the fairy who is standing on the right who is holding on to a leash with a small old man with a long beard. There are a lot of vignettes that surround the central two figures of Titania and Bottom. Some of the creepiest passages I think are in the foreground, closest 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. And she seems to be shushing something, perhaps us. On the right you see a hooded figure holding in its hands another small figures that's looking directly out at us rather menacingly. But it looks like its body has not been quite formed. RIght, and art historians have identified that figure as a changeling. So here you see this interest in exploring the shadow. the irrational, the occult, the dream. And I find this interesting because I see a continuous thread from this sort of painting into the 19th and 20th centuries. Think of, for instance, Surrealism think of the work of Dali, think of the exploration of the unconscious. 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's 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 these shadows have offended, think but this and all is mended that you have but slumbered here, while these visions did appear.