Friday, January 14, 2011

Eccentric and Impassioned

This is a drawing with the unwieldy name, Satan Starts from the Touch of Ithuriel's Spear.

'In book four of Paradise Lost, John Milton describes Satan's first entry into the Garden of Eden and his discovery of Adam and Eve. Henry Fuseli's drawing, directly below, illustrates the moment when the angels Ithuriel and Zephon discover Satan in the bower where the couple lies sleeping. They find him "close at the ear of Eve" in the form of a toad. Ithuriel then touches Satan with his spear and forces him to reveal his true form. Fuseli dramatizes the scene with emphatic light on Satan's body, which has no natural source (the moon is behind him), and in doing so creates a visual counterpart to the metaphoric imagery of light and fire with which Milton describes Satan's appearance to the two angels. The lion in the background alludes to an earlier passage in the poem, when Satan takes on the shape of the beast in order to spy on Adam and Eve.'

Note, too, the dynamic angle of the scene, casting energy to the right with Satan's rise. Fuseli's work, to me is eccentric and impassioned, especially for the time of the late 1700s and early 1800s, and I look forward to discovering more of his drawings.

Fuseli made several closely related drawings to this one, and here below, he was commissioned for a large-scale painting of the subject in 1779. I don't think it's nearly as interesting as the drawing, yet it's a somewhat compelling image.

1 comment:

Annie said...

Hi Thom,
I agree with your assessment, comparing the two. I've been surprised, studying more art lately, that artist's drawings and studies are often more expressive and dynamic than the finished painting. Thanks for posting both of them.