Henry Fuseli. Titania Awakening (1785-89)

Oil on canvas, 87 x 110 inches. Kuntzmuseum, Winterthur.

The source is A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act IV, scene i. Titania awakes and says, "My Oberon, what visions I have seen! / Methough I was enamored of an ass." Oberon points to Bottom, sleeping beside her. Like its companion, Titania and Bottom, this painting is busy with detail and invites the viewer to interpret the various figures.

Titania Awakening also divides into two contrasting parts. On the right are Oberon and Titania, bathed in light; standing between them is a fairy with the herb, "love-in-idleness," that breaks the spell cast by Puck. Surrounding the two are a group of laughing and dancing fairies, accompanied by an elf playing the bagpipe.

On the left, however, we find the shadowed figure of Bottom, with some kind of cloaked and hooded creature crawling from between his legs. The ass's head is held above him by a fairy, and just above his head in Queen Mab and her steed. The allusion is to Romeo and Juliet (I, iv) when Mercutio describes Queen Mab as "the fairies' midwife" who is drawn "Over men's noses as they lie asleep." She gallops by night "Through lovers' brains, and then they dream of love." At Bottom's left arm, to complete the sinister aspects of this half of the painting, are a group of witches, one of them clutching to her breast a baby demon. Here Fuseli depicts, as he did in Titania and Bottom, the two aspects of life and love: one light and carefree, the other dark and erotic.