By permission of the Folger Shakespeare Library
Oil on canvas, approximately 36.5 x 28 inches. The Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, D.C.
In Act V, scene i of The Tempest Ariel, who will soon be given his freedom by Prospero, sings this song:
Where the bee sucks, there suck I;
In a cowslip's bell I lie;
There I couch when owls do cry.
On the bat's back I do fly
After summer merrily.
Merrily, merrily shall I live now
Under the blossom that hangs on the bough.
Fuseli has taken some liberties with the text in his painting; before Ariel sings his song he exits and returns with Prospero's hat and rapier. He then "sings and helps to attire him," according to the stage directions. Miranda and Ferdinand, in the bottom of the picture, are not present when Ariel sings his song, nor are they embraced as the painting suggests; they are in Prospero's cell demurely playing a game of chess. However, the conceit of Ariel riding a bat and controlling it with a star-studded cord--what he does presumably when he is not helping his master, Prospero--captures the nature of the sprite.
For a description of the painting's condition and comments on its composition, see Pressly, pp. 64-5.