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Title Thor Battering the Midgard Serpent
Alternative Title Thor Battering the Serpent of Midgard, in the Boat of Hymer the Giant
Collection Royal Academy of Arts, London
Artist Fuseli, Henry, R.A. (Swiss painter, 1741-1825, active in England)
Date 1790

This painting was Fuseli's Diploma Work, presented to the Royal Academy of Arts on his election as a full Academician in 1790, responding to the requirement that once elected a Royal Academician must submitted a work, representative of his oeuvre to the Academy's collection. This painting is a good example of Fuseli's favourite subject matters based on the supernatural, fairy mythology and demonic superstition. It illustrates an episode of the Icelandic sagas of the Elder Edda which were known in England from Thomas Percy's translation of P.H. Mallet's Introduction a l'histoire du Dannemarc, (1755) published as Northern Antiquities in 1770 (II, p. 134ff.).

In this painting, Fuseli focused on the heroic male nude, responding both to academic stipulations, which give priority of skill in the treatment of such figures, and the cult of primitivism, which found its expression through the re-evaluation of the ancient literary sources, particularly strong in this period. This painting was the forerunner in Fuseli's work of a series of paintings and drawings illustrating Nordic poets and legends.

Museum Number 03/995
Subject mythology (Icelandic hero Thor); figure
Measurements 133.0 x 94,6 cm
Material oil on canvas

Label on stretcher : 'London/ Thir Battering the Serpent of Midgard/ Henry Fuseli RA' - Label on stretcher : 'Royal Academy of Arts/ Burlington House/ Exhibition of / the Works of Old Masters and Deceased British Artists, 1875/ The President and Council of the Royal Academy/ request the company of' - This painting is not included in the 1875 catalogue of the Exhibition of Works of Old Masters ....

Henry Fuseli specialised in history paintings on a grand scale, drawing his inspiration from the mythology, classical literature and notably Dante's Divine Comedy. Fuseli's art was concerned uniquely with the human figure seen in tragic or violent situations, generally drawn from Aeschylus, Homer, Dante and especially Shakespeare. As Fuseli was full of enthusiasm for the French Revolution, some parallels have been drawn between this heroic battle and contemporary events in France. Thor's battle with the serpent could be seen as a mirror of the French people's struggle against the ancien régime.

Fuseli was also a prolific writer and was elected the Academy's Professor of Painting, a post he held until 1805. He was made Keeper in 1804 and re-elected Professor in 1810, the statutes being changed to enable him to retain the Keepership as well.

Rights Owner Royal Academy of Arts, London
Author Ana Debenedetti



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